The defensive backs huddle up during Tuesday's practice.
When Bruce Arians decided to revamp the Cardinals secondary, it was out with the old and in with the new.
Or more like in with the veterans.
The Cards have 16 defensive backs on their roster, only two of which – Patrick Peterson and Rashad Johnson – saw significant playing time with Arizona last season and only two others – Jamell Fleming and Justin Bethel – who were on the roster. The new faces are well-known around the league. Cornerback Jerraud Powers started in Indianapolis last season as did Antoine Cason in San Diego. Safety Yeremiah Bell started in New York. Cornerback Javier Arenas was a part-time starter in Kansas City.
While the average age of the unit has lowered, just one rookie, Tyrann Mathieu, has been penciled in on the first- or second-team. Despite everyone getting older every day, having just
one greenhorn to train has helped the secondary expedite their learning.
"We've been around the block," Powers said. "We've seen everything we could possibly see as far as a new team and guys having experience and all that. We're past that stage where I'm trying to teach this guy how to do this and we're not coming in teaching this guy how to do that.
"We're coming into a situation now where we can all learn from each other instead of having to teach a young guy how to do that."
Not being slowed by a bevy of rookies, the secondary has already built bonds. Peterson said the defensive backs have been getting their hands on a good amount of balls, something last year's unit hung their hat on.
But gone are Kerry Rhodes, Adrian Wilson, William Gay and Greg Toler. The new regime is in place and understands and respects last year's group, but knows it's time to leave their own imprint.
"You got to start fresh," Bell said. "You can't look in the past. We've got all new guys, we've got to come together and make our own results. Last year's bunch, they were a great group of guys, but they're gone. This is a new bunch."
Bell, who's in his 10th year in the NFL, said he's not surprised to see a secondary rebuilt with a large majority of veterans. On top of being the oldest defensive back at 35, Bell is the most familiar with Todd Bowles' new defensive scheme having spent four years in Miami with his new defensive coordinator.
For the most part, whether they were a Cardinal last season or not, the entire secondary came into training camp on the same page – everybody had to learn the new defense, also a 3-4 base but with Bowles' personality engraved on it. Being veterans, Bell noted, however, made the transition to a new scheme all the easier.
"Guys have been around, you know what to expect and it's easier to get on the same page once you all know what you are doing," Bell said. "It's a good thing."
Peterson can already see progress being made. Everyone's learning what their teammates can bring to the field. For example, Peterson said Powers is intelligent, Johnson is a ball hawk and Bell is like Wilson – he loves contact. But Peterson, a third-year cornerback out of LSU, isn't sugarcoating anything. He said there's still plenty of work to be done on the field and off. He's not fretting. The goal is to have everything working in unison by Week 1 in St. Louis.
That's when this year's secondary hopes to have their own identity. Right now that's also a work in progress, Powers said. The defensive backs are just trying to prove they're accountable for each other. Once that is built, the balls will come.
"We want to be one of the best secondaries in the league," Powers said. "Not just in our division. In the league. Period."