Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will look to return to Pro Bowl form in 2011.
Two of the last four first-round picks for the Cardinals have been used on a cornerback.
That tends to set an expectation level for the position.
The drafting of Patrick Peterson fifth overall in April created the potential for an excellent cornerback group. Already the Cardinals had Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, their 2008 first-rounder who was a Pro Bowler in 2009. The work-in-progress Greg Toler, a fourth-round pick in 2009, still can start while Peterson learns or become a valuable nickel corner in a league that demands teams have at least three good cover men.
Of course, it remains just potential for now. Peterson has yet to practice in the NFL yet, much less play a game. Rodgers-Cromartie admittedly didn't play as well last year as he should have or could have. Toler is getting better, but he is still learning the game after coming out of tiny Saint Paul's College. All three figure to get a boost from new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who played cornerback in the league and has spent his career as coach working with defensive backs before coming to Arizona.
Horton has said he wants defensive backs that are physical, something with which both Peterson and Toler should have no problem. Rodgers-Cromartie hasn't incorporated that into his game, and how his style and the style expected from Horton mesh will go a long way in determining how the cornerback situation plays out. Clearly DRC is the best cover man the Cardinals have and his physical gifts are something every team needs.
Beyond the top three, Michael Adams should still find a way to stay on the roster. He's much better suited for a fourth cornerback role than playing the third guy (and one injury away from starting). Adams plays a valuable role on special teams and Horton will love Adams' ability to tackle as one of the most fundamentally solid tacklers on the team.
If Adams does stick around, it doesn't leave a big opening for guys like A.J. Jefferson, Marshay Green and Trumaine McBride. Of the three, Jefferson continues to intrigue with his size (6-foot) while Green flashed as a rookie. McBride's contract is expiring, so he may not return depending on who else the Cards may want to sign.
Ultimately, however, the success of the corners will come back to those two first-rounders: How quickly Peterson adjusts to the NFL, and how quickly Rodgers-Cromartie reverts to his Pro Bowl form.
KEY PLAYER IN 2011: DRC. While Peterson will get the spotlight and will be needed, Rodgers-Cromartie is the best cornerback the Cardinals have and he needs to play at a high level.
CONSIDER THIS: Peterson insists he is a corner, and not a safety-in-waiting a la Antrel Rolle. If Peterson indeed can use his crazy size-plus-speed as a cover man, the Cardinals may have just ended up with the best player in the draft.
ROSTER CHANGE CHANCES ON 1-10 SCALE: About a 2. The bottom of the depth chart could churn, but the top three are set and there's a good chance guys like Adams and Jefferson can extend those locks even deeper.
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