The Arizona Cardinals are off to a great start, and a big reason that the team is thriving is the play of their defense.
Arizona improved to 4-1 on the season with a 42-17 victory over the struggling Detroit Lions (0-5) as the Cards forced six turnovers. But it wasn’t all rosy for the Cardinals top-10 ranked defense, as they lost starting outside linebacker Alex Okafor as well as backup linebacker Kenny Demens and safety Chris Clemons to injuries in the game.
Fox Sports reported that all three players flew back to Arizona last night to undergo MRI exams while the rest of team traveled to West Virginia as they will play at the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday.
According to Darren Urban of Cards Chatter, head coach Bruce Arians told reporters that he “didn’t feel good” about the future status of any of the three injured players.
Update: Arizona Republic is reporting that 35-year old Dwight Freeney and the Cardinals have agreed on a one-year, minimum deal with sacks incentives. Freeney will make a base salary of about $685,000 as he has missed five games. The 35-year old was a sack master in his younger days but he’s had just nine sacks in the past three years, including 3.5 last year with San Diego.
Demens (knee) injury is considered to be the most serious. The special teams standout told reporters, following the game, that he thinks he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee when his cleat got caught in the turf.
Demens has three tackles this season, with two being of the solo variety.
Okafor left the game in the fourth quarter quarter with a right calf injury, per Arizona Sports. He was credited with three tackles in the game versus the Lions.
Okafor has 12 tackles and two sacks — though none since opening night against New Orleans — this season, as well as one pass defended. The 24-year-old had eight sacks in 13 games last season. Prior to the season, Josh Weinfuss of ESPN said that the pass-rushing specialist was expected to register 10 sacks this season.
If any of the injuries are serious the Cards, who will the Cards turn to?
The good news is that Arizona carries a bunch of linebackers on their 53-man roster. The Cards currently have nine active players with the ability to play linebacker — Alanai Fua, Kevin Minter, Sean Weatherspoon, Markus Golden, Kareem Martin, Shaq Riddick, and LaMarr Woodley are the other linebackers. Weatherspoon and Riddick were healthy scratches versus Detroit.
Urban said that Weatherspoon, an inside linebacker, will likely take Demens spot. The 27-year-old was expected to have a major role as a reserve after signing with the team as a free agent in March. However, his role has slowly decreased over the past few games.
The former first round selection of the Atlanta Falcons played 12 snaps in the season-opener against New Orleans, then 15 in Chicago the next week. But his playing time dropped to nine snaps in Week 3, and he didn’t play in Week 4, despite being active.
Weatherspoon has recorded six tackles this season. He missed the entire season last year with an Achilles injury.
Okafor will be harder to replace if the injury is serious.
Martin will likely get the first crack at starting though Golden, who is Woodley’s main backup on the strong side, could move over to the weak side. Riddick will likely see more of a prominent role.
Martin, the Cards third round pick in 2014 is still learning to transition to the outside from the inside and has only two tackles this season, including half a sack. He had eight tackles and one sack last year.
Golden, a rookie, has nine tackles this year, including one versus Detroit. The second round pick has also recorded a sack and has been credited with a run stuff. Riddick, the Cards fifth round selection out of West Virginia, has not seen the field this year.
Arizona could look to the free agent market or promote one of the following from their practice squad — ILB Gabe Martin, CB Cariel Brooks, CB Leon McFadden, CB Robert Nelson — if any/or all three players are out for an extended period of time.
[Photo by Norm Hall / Getty Images]