Corey Peters is the only returning Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman who played more than half of the snaps for the team in 2019. Only two players total even played more than 30% of the total snaps.
That’s how bad it was for Arizona as injuries and two preseason releases led to a sputtered reset along the interior of the defensive line.
So the Cardinals this offseason went all-in on making sure their front seven would not be a weak link moving forward, firing defensive line coach Chris Achuff at the end of 2019 and replacing him with the well-respected — and familiar — Brentson Buckner, who was the Oakland Raiders’ D-line coach last year.
“I think the first thing we need to acknowledge is last year we failed as a unit,” Peters said on a Zoom call Friday. “We failed as a team, too. There’s always going to be a lot of changes. I’m very happy with the changes they made.
“I’m really anxious to get back into a training camp setting and see what we’ve got. Right now, everything looks good on paper but we really have to click and figure out how we’re going to play together and work off each other. Only practicing and getting that time together is going to be the tell for that.”
A captain, Peters has the job of learning his new teammates virtually through at least May 29. That includes free agent addition Jordan Phillips, a 341-pound behemoth who recorded 9.5 sacks for the Buffalo Bills last year, fourth-year pro Trevon Coley, plus 2020 draft picks Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence.
All of them could earn time in the regular rotation after the offseason overhaul.
After Peters, only one other defensive lineman who played for the Cardinals in 2019 was on the field more than half of the time. Rodney Gunter (53% of the available snaps) hit free agency and is off to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Carolina Panthers signed away Zach Kerr (29%), a midseason pickup who played in 12 games but was still third of the Cardinals’ defensive linemen in snaps taken all year.
Back is fifth-year pro Jonathan Bullard (28%), who flashed before ending his season on the IR. Second-year players Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe and Miles Brown could also fight for snaps.
Buckner, who worked with Peters from 2015-17 as the Cardinals defensive line coach, will be the driving force to bring that group together.
“I love his brutal honesty,” Peters told Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley on Thursday’s Big Red Rage. “I think as a player the one thing you can hope for is for a coach who can hold you to a standard, somebody who sets a standard that’s high but reachable. And then finds a way for you to reach it.”
So far, Peters has reason to believe in his new teammates without seeing them on the field. He’s been impressed by the maturity of Lawrence and Fotu and hopes that will help them overcome the lack of live reps as the team waits out the coronavirus-caused restrictions.
As a whole, Peters believes the pieces are there for his position group to be much-improved.
“I think if you look at what we did in the draft and the depth we built on the D-line, flexibility has probably been the main focus of the team. That just seems like what they’re going for,” he said.
“We’ve spoken about being able to play multiple positions along the D-line and guys being able to interchange here and there. I’m excited about that opportunity and I’m excited to see what it looks like. It’s been really challenging to spend this much time away.”