Rookie linebacker Daryl Washington (58) is trying to find playing time on the inside above guys like Reggie Walker (56) and Paris Lenon (51).
FLAGSTAFF – Daryl Washington doesn't look like a savior.
Right now, in fact, the linebacker the Cardinals took in the second round of April's draft to replace Karlos Dansby looks more like a guy who will have to make an effort just to make the roster. He is third string, behind Paris Lenon and Ali Highsmith.
This isn't because the Cardinals don't believe in his talent. They most certainly do, which is the reason he would've been considered with their first-round pick had nose tackle Dan Williams not fallen to them. It's the reason they traded up in the second round to get him. It's the reason the team had Washington rated higher that Alabama inside linebacker Rolando McClain, who was drafted eighth overall by Oakland.
"I don't think they want to give me a big head, and I don't want to give myself a big head either," Washington said. "But I think they have high expectations for me."
Rookies have to earn their playing time, however, especially with this coaching staff. When Dansby and Darnell Dockett were drafted back in 2004, then-coach Dennis Green immediately dropped them into the starting lineup. Both eventually proved to be very good players, but they never had to prove themselves worthy. Washington does.
So he sits as a third-stringer for now, even though the Cardinals are trying to figure out exactly what they are going to do at inside linebacker. On the outside, they are set, with veterans Joey Porter and Clark Haggans entrenched.
Inside, though, it's been difficult. Dansby left as a free agent, and while Lenon was signed as a free agent and Washington drafted to fill that void, the assumption was veteran Gerald Hayes would man the other inside spot. But Hayes' back troubles lingered, to the point he had to have surgery later in the offseason which will keep him out indefinitely.
"You sleep better at night with a couple of Pro Bowl vets who have done it," defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "That's the perfect world. But it's never that in the NFL. You might even have those Pro Bowlers and they get hurt first day of camp.
"We have a lot of guys we have confidence in, but they have got to show it on the field on a consistent basis."
Losing Hayes was definitely a curveball, Davis admitted, "and it broke late."
"We came out of OTAs thinking Gerald would come to camp ready to roll," Davis said. "Now we have to adjust. It's part of the NFL."
Whisenhunt has talked often of competition and nowhere is that more clear than at inside linebacker, where multiple players (including Reggie Walker) have a legitimate shot at grabbing a starting role. Lenon figures people are wondering about those spots, but that it is impossible to know how it will come together.
"You have to let it play out," Lenon said.
That includes Washington's immediate future. It's hard to believe he will stay third-string very long – second-rounders just don't – but as Davis said, "this isn't the potential game."
Washington, who was a starter at Texas Christian University only his final year, has had to prove himself before. He says the right things about absorbing as much as he can, but he also wants to play.
The Cardinals, sooner rather than later, may need him to do just that.
"I think about that a lot," Washington said. "Playing early in your career is a great thing. There is a lot to learn. But to come in and play right way, those are my expectations."
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