Originally posted on Fox Sports Arizona  |  Last updated 8/9/12
Every player in the Cardinals locker room knows Ray Hortons pedigree. They know he spent seven seasons under famed Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau mastering one of the NFLs most successful and most enduring schemes. But as Horton installed a similarly modeled defense last season in his first year as the Cards coordinator, he refrained from wearing that badge of honor on his sleeve. "I said, 'There is a city in western Pennsylvania,'" Horton said. "I never used the team's name. I didnt want to disrespect the men in the room. We were talking about Arizona and what we were doing here." Respect was a slowly earned commodity as the Cards opened the season 1-6. But a 7-2 finish during which the unit ranked among the NFLs elite in several categories has ramped up expectations for 2012. The Cardinals have more depth, they understand and can execute the defense far better and, perhaps most importantly, they have full buy-in from the key players on the roster. I think we can be a lot better than what we were last year -- 10 times better, safety and captain Adrian Wilson said. But we cant have that feeling that we belong. We have to do it every single game, every single practice. As redundant and clichd as that sounds, its hard to do, because consistency is probably the hardest thing to do in this league. To keep on that straight and narrow path, defensive tackle Darnell Dockett reminds himself how bad things can get without proper preparation and understanding by scanning last years results. "I still remember the Minnesota Vikings game, when they thrashed us up and down the field," he said of a 34-10 loss to a team that won three games. "When you think about games like that, it humbles you down real well. We know what we can do, but it don't mean anything what people say." That Dockett is on board is a huge step in the right direction for this unit. Last season, Dockett had a hard time accepting a new role as a gap container who wouldnt rack up the same stats he had in past years because he wasnt always in attack mode. "Here's the interesting dichotomy of that, Horton said. He was the first person who called me when I got hired, and he was kind of the last person to come on board on the field. He was kind of like, 'Well, who are you to tell me what I do best? Fortunately for Horton, he had witnesses in the locker room who could testify. Veterans Joey Porter, Clark Haggans and Nick Eason had all played for the Steelers. "It always comes down to trust, and it validates a little bit of what's going on," Horton said. "We had a stage in that season where it was going to go one way or another, and they chose to trust." Horton credits coach Ken Whisenhunt with turning things around by calling a team meeting in which players were encouraged to express their reservations and complaints. But faith could not have been achieved without a little on-field success. We got a taste," Wilson said, "and I think guys wanted to learn it and really get after it just because they had seen how successful its been over the long haul -- pretty much as long as Dick LeBeaus been in the league. Whenever you have success like that on the field, guys want to feel what it feels like to be in a No. 1 defense. In theory, it should help that the Cards now have depth along the line in David Carter, Nick Eason and Vonnie Holliday, depth at linebacker in Reggie Walker, Stewart Bradley, Haggans and Quentin Groves, and depth in the secondary in five cornerbacks vying for the spot opposite Patrick Peterson. Last year we were trying to find guys to play. Now we are going to release somebody that can play in the NFL, Horton said. It also helps that the Cards have renewed confidence. Is that something that you like to see? Yes, you like to see a team that's confident, Whisenhunt said. But you can get into a trap being too confident and not playing as disciplined as you need to play. You make mistakes and you'll be right back where you started, giving up big plays." That sobering reality, along with the Cardinals schedule, is what keeps Horton awake at night. Are we better today than we were a year ago today? he asked. Yes. Were better. How good are we? I dont know. We havent played a game yet. Am I concerned about how were going to do? Yeah. We play murderers row. We play Hall of Fame (quarterback) Tom Brady, Hall of Fame Aaron Rodgers, (Detroits) Matthew Stafford, (Chicagos Jay) Cutler, the guy down in Atlanta (Matt Ryan). Its not quite as sexy to talk about, but the Cardinals defense faces every bit as much pressure as embattled quarterback Kevin Kolb does when he takes the field Friday in Kansas City or next week in Glendale. Its a results business, Horton said. If you dont get it done, youre not around long. Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter
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