Written by Madison Kerley and posted on isportsweb’s website on January 5, 2017
In a league where change is almost constant, it is very unusual how little change the Arizona Cardinals secondary experienced in the 2013 to 2015 seasons.
The Cardinals secondary, also called the “No Fly Zone,” has mostly consisted of Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson, Justin Bethel and Tony Jefferson the past few years. After Johnson left to the Tennessee Titans in March 2016 and Powers moved on to the Baltimore Ravens in May 2016, the secondary had some remodeling to do.
Although the “No Fly Zone” lost two of its main members, the Cardinals added Tyvon Branch and Marcus Cooper and drafted Harlan Miller and Brandon Williams. Cardinals safety D.J. Swearinger, who joined the team in 2015, also stepped into a bigger role on the team and made a significant impact on the once constant secondary.
A lot of the change in the secondary was forced by injuries. Branch, Jefferson and Mathieu spent the end of the season on the injured reserve list, giving the new guys their time to shine.
Miller made his debut in the Cardinals 34-31 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24, 2016, at a position he is not normally familiar with. Listed as a cornerback on the Cardinals’ roster, Miller went in at safety for Jefferson after an injury.
Williams and Bethel also made it on the field against the Seahawks and made a significant impact despite having minimal playing time beforehand.
Keeping the secondary strong is very important for the Cardinals after what most fans would call a disappointing season. Getting playing time at the end of the season was helpful for rookies Miller and Williams, and gave them experience to carry into offseason work and next season’s play.
A chance to play late in the season also gave head coach Bruce Arians an opportunity to assess where his rookies stand and what they need to work on in the offseason.
Offseason work will be very crucial for the Cardinals. Between the draft, free agency, and practice, the secondary could experience even more change.
Once healed from injuries Peterson and Mathieu will return to their strong positions in the secondary, and depending on whether Arians likes what he saw and what the rookies show in the offseason Miller and Williams could be back in play next season as well. The change could come with Jefferson, Cooper, and Swearinger who are all free agents.
Swearinger has only been with the Cardinals since December 2015 after being cut from two prior teams after being drafted in 2013, a perfect example that the stability the Cardinals once had in their secondary is far from normal in the NFL.