The Cardinals' secondary (clockwise from bottom right) of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Antrel Rolle, Adrian Wilson and Rod Hood is maturing as a unit.
Sometimes, Antrel Rolle goes over to the house of rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie so they can study video of opponents and of themselves.
It helped Rodgers-Cromartie earlier in the year, as the rookie cornerback learned from the former cornerback-turned-free safety.
But now, with Rolle seemingly having found a comfort level at his new position and Rodgers-Cromartie moving into the starting lineup, the relationship can only help on a grander scale.
Despite the presence of a Pro Bowl-caliber strong safety in Adrian Wilson and a solid cornerback in Rod Hood, to call the Cardinals' secondary anything else but a work-in-progress earlier this season would have been disingenuous. Thirteen games into the schedule, the secondary has become more of a finished product.
"You want that development to come earlier," defensive backs coach Teryl Austin said. "I wasn't sure when it would come and I was hoping it would be earlier. But I'm glad where we are now."
The improvement can be traced to a couple of areas. The most important is the stability. Rodgers-Cromartie, the team's first-round draft pick, was pushing for a starting job soon after the season began. He eventually surpassed Eric Green on the depth chart, but by the time that happened, Hood was hurting with a rib injury that either limited him or kept him out altogether.
Last weekend's game was the first time Hood was healthy enough to reclaim his job full-time with Rodgers-Cromartie on the other side.
The other significant advance came from Rolle, whose position switch was hampered in training camp because of an ankle injury.
"I have come quite a ways," Rolle said. "Watching myself in the first game and watching myself now, I think I have made huge steps. But at the same time, where I want to be as a safety, I still have a long way to go."
So too does the secondary as a whole. Rodgers-Cromartie still faces a steep learning curve despite three interceptions the past four games. And the trust factor, while growing, isn't cemented yet.
"You need to play a number of games together in order to mesh," Wilson said. "The whole thing in the secondary is you have to communicate.
"Guys that can play for a long time together and we can grow together. It's kind of what our offensive line went through. It's all about continuity."
Hood said he thinks the Cards' secondary can be the equivalent to the one he once played with in Philadelphia, where safeties Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis teamed with cornerbacks Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent (along with Hood at the nickel slot) to become a force.
Being able to feel confident the safety sees the same route as the cornerback, or that the two can quickly figure out who will jump inside with the other covering over the top, are factors that makes the game easier to play.
"That's the biggest thing about a secondary, understanding your (teammate) will be there when he tells you he's going to be there," Hood said.
Austin said there are still times when the defensive backs leave plays on the field instead of creating a turnover or incompletion or making a tackle -- something the group is still trying to clean up. But Austin added the unit is better about not beating itself.
Austin also sees the potential of the group if it can stay together. On that point, everyone is on the same page.
"The talent has never been the question," Rolle said. "It's the chemistry."
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 12/11/08.