Defensive end Calais Campbell, shown here pressuring quarterback Carson Palmer, is one of the main pass-rushing threats
The Cardinals have blitzed on a higher percentage of plays than anyone in the NFL the past two seasons, and even with a new defensive coordinator, there's little reason to think they will stray from that strategy.
But even at their prolific pace, more than half of the Cardinals' defensive sn
aps during coach Bruce Arians' tenure have featured four or fewer rushers, and for all the strong areas the Cardinals boast defensively, one legitimate question is the ability to create pressure without the blitz.
"I get what people say," said last year's leading sack man, linebacker Alex Okafor. "If you look on paper, we don't (have an elite pass-rusher). Calais (Campbell), he's a hell of a player, but outside of him we don't have the numbers. That's why I think it drives the D-line and the 'backers as a group, to get those numbers on paper and show people what we can do. I know we're capable of it."
Campbell is one of the most complete defensive linemen in the game, but his career-high in sacks is nine and he's not a classic edge-rushing terror. Okafor is the guy who will be counted on the most in that role. He had eight sacks in 13 games last year after missing the start of the season with a quadriceps injury, and Arians expects more in 2015.
"I would anticipate him to grow and grow and grow," Arians said. "He's a double-digit sack guy, easy."
After those two, it becomes murky. The players with the most intrigue are rookie outside linebacker Markus Golden and veteran outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. Golden had 10 sacks as a senior last season at Missouri, but was a surprise pick in the second round because he is a few inches shorter than the traditional pass-rushing star.
Woodley averaged 11 sacks per season from 2008-2011, including a career-high of 13½ in 2009, but has totaled only nine over 30 games his past three seasons. He's 30 and coming off a torn biceps which shelved him for the final 10 games of 2014. One season after agreeing to a two-year deal with the Raiders worth up to $12 million, he signed for the minimum with the Cardinals amid whispers of an irreversible decline.
Woodley thinks there is still plenty left in the tank, and if he an
d/or Golden become a weapon, the Cardinals will be in better shape.
"The only thing that ever slowed me up from going out there and playing at a high level was little knick-knack injuries," Woodley said.
While the Cardinals didn't have a player hit double digits in sacks last year, their total of 35 wasn't bad. It ranked 24th in the league, and was only seven behind the eighth-place Lions. The underlying issue was that much of the pressure had to be created through blitzing.
The Cardinals didn't make a splash to grab a hyped pass-rusher this offseason but have many new faces. The additions of linemen Cory Redding, Rodney Gunter and Corey Peters combined with holdovers Frostee Rucker and Ed Stinson could supplement the primary weapons.
Arians seems optimistic about his team's ability to get to the quarterback, and even incremental gains can be important since the defense looks like it could be strong against the run and in coverage. The new acquisitions will get their first chance to impress on Saturday against the Chiefs.
"We'll blitz people, we'll rush with four, we'll rush with three," Arians said. "It depends. I like where some of these young guys are right now. I'm anxious to see them against somebody else."
Images from the ninth practice at University of Phoenix Stadium