More Zone Could Lead To Picks For Cardinals Linebackers

LB Haason Reddick waits for an interception against the Saints.

Haason Reddick and Scooby Wright feigned a blitz early in Friday’s preseason game against the Saints before dropping into a zone coverage in the middle of the field.

New Orleans wide receiver Cameron Meredith ran a slant into their vicinity, and when he couldn’t handle a pass from Taysom Hill, the Cardinals’ linebacker duo went to work.

As the deflected football hurtled toward him, Wright threw up his right arm and ricocheted it into the air. Reddick then settled under it for an easy interception.

Even though the Cardinals have rolled out some talented players at linebacker the past four seasons, this was a rare visual. Since 2014, no linebacker on the team has corralled more than one interception in a season -- but that could be changing in 2018.

The Cardinals are likely to play more zone under defensive coordinator Al Holcomb and coach Steve Wilks, which could allow for more interception opportunities for the linebackers.

“That’s definitely something exciting for the linebackers with the defense they presented us,” middle linebacker Josh Bynes said. “We should have our opportunities this year. We just have to make the most of them.”

The Cardinals would love to reach the standard set by the All-Pro linebackers Wilks and Holcomb coached with the Panthers. Luke Kuechly has 15 career interceptions, including four in both 2013 and 2015. Davis has 13 career interceptions, including a combined seven between 2015 and 2016.

Holcomb said there are certain techniques that the linebackers must use in order to get their hands on the ball regularly.

“It’s playing with vision, understanding route concepts and route progression,” Holcomb said. “And it’s getting your eyes on the quarterback and getting ready to break.”

The Cardinals’ linebackers are taking their opportunities seriously. Any dropped interception in practice is punished by 10 push-ups. Bynes doesn’t expect to be doing push-ups too often.

“Obviously I have the best hands,” Bynes said. “I’m dead serious. If anybody wants to challenge me on that, we can have that challenge.”

Reddick was the first linebacker to snatch an interception this preseason. He believes the Cardinals’ zone philosophy could also benefit another position group.

“If it’s us getting the picks or elevating the ball so the DBs can get picks, either way, with us dropping in coverage, it’s going to be a big part of what goes on,” Reddick said. “I feel like either we’re going to be able to make a lot of plays, or the DBs behind us are going to make a lot of plays.”

Karlos Dansby had four interceptions in 2013, the last linebacker with multiple picks in a season for the Cardinals. He changed the complexion of games that year, and this year’s group hopes to do the same.

“In practice you might have, like, 20 interceptions, but in the game you never know when the opportunity may come,” Bynes said. “You catch the ball and it’s a big play at a crucial moment.”

Images of the junior cheerleaders during the Chargers' game

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