New Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles explains part of the scheme to his players during a recent practice.
Patrick Peterson shook his head, because he didn't see any sea change coming to the Cardinals defense this season.
Sure, the Cardinals had brought in Todd Bowles as defensive coordinator – replacing Ray Horton – but "I don't think it will be radically different," Peterson said.
"It's pretty much the same scheme but a different style."
There will be a different style not only to the defense but with the defensive coordinator. Some of that will be seen in public – don't count on Bowles to make the blunt, headline-making statements Horton often did – and some will take place behind the scenes. But it's clear Bowles carries with him a quiet confidence as he builds the defense in his own way.
He knows there will be some that will compare his defense to the one from last year, but he isn't thinking about it much.
"I've known of Ray for a long time and he's a good coach in his own right, as are many others," Bowles said. "You try to do what you do best, coach the team as you see fit, and go from there."
And that's impressed his players so far.
"Todd is more about putting his players in place to make plays, he's not basing a defense
around a certain scheme," defensive end Darnell Dockett said. "He'll sit down and ask questions like, 'Are you good at this?' 'Can you do this?'
"I think it is beneficial to us because he puts his trust in us and believes in what we are capable of doing. We just want to make him look good at what we are doing."
Bowles arrived with the plan to play a 3-4 scheme as his desire, not because the Cardinals were already playing the alignment. The change in style will in part be about Bowles' plan to be much more aggressive with 3-4 ends Dockett and Calais Campbell.
He has also begun the drumbeat of creating turnovers. That's not necessarily new – Horton did it and as Bowles pointed out, there isn't a defensive coach that doesn't – but it is Bowles' top priority above all else.
The Cardinals were fourth in the NFL in forcing turnovers a year ago with 33, including 22 interceptions, which was second in the league.
"Turnovers limit offensive possessions and turnovers gets your offense the ball back as soon as possible, and turnovers change games," Bowles said. "Stopping somebody is great, but if we can emphasize turnovers and get the ball back as much as possible, that's more damaging to an offensive team than anything else.
"There are a lot of teams that finish in the top five in defense and still aren't very good in turnovers. Turnovers are the key to winning ballgames."
Pinning down Bowles' top defensive influences is difficult because he can't do it either. He streams a long list of names that have impacted his defensive thoughts over the years, starting with his first defensive coordinator when he was playing for the Redskins, Richie Petitbon. Emmitt Thomas too, Bowles' first defensive backs coach in Washington.
He also praised former teammate Doug Williams, who gave Bowles his first important coaching job as defensive coordinator at Grambling.
"Doug saw me as a football coach even when I didn't," Bowles said.
Now, coach Bruce Arians touts Bowles as a future NFL head coach (and Bowles did serve as Miami's interim head coach at the end of the 2011 season.)
"He's confident," Dockett said. "He's told us, 'We can think we'll go out and have a swag defense, think we're going to stop anybody, without working hard at practice and learning how to do things at practice, no.' He's real upfront."
Whatever change is coming – and the Cardinals ended up 12th in total defense last year – will be absorbed during the offseason, Peterson said.
"Honestly, we're pros and we have to learn the schemes to the best of our ability," Peterson said. "We shouldn't let the scheme or the new playbook get in the way of us playing fast or being successful."
There aren't any doubts on the defensive side the unit will continue to be a force, regardless of who the coach is now.
"I think we definitely will," Campbell said. "Especially if we score more points this year, and the way our offense has looked in minicamp, it's been awesome, it will allow us defensively to do what we can really do."