FOXBOROUGH — The Patriots’ offensive line held up well against the Titans last Sunday, but to hear coach Bill Belichick and several players tell it this week, they are facing a different challenge from the Cardinals’ defensive line.
Arizona typically plays a 3-4, with Calais Campbell, Dan Williams, and Darnell Dockett the linemen.
“They really try to play to the strength of their players,” Tom Brady said. “They have a very disruptive front — Dockett and Campbell are really impressive players. It’s a very physical team, they’re fast. I’d say that they’re just very disruptive.”
Belichick seems impressed with Campbell in particular. A fifth-year pro out of the University of Miami, the end is a monster at 6 feet 8 inches, 300 pounds. To hear Belichick describe him, Campbell is similar to Richard Seymour in his prime.
“He’s long, he’s explosive, he’s powerful, he’s quick, plays hard, he’s got a really good motor, doesn’t stop,” Belichick said of Campbell. “He has good awareness, very instinctive. He bats down a lot of passes; he gets to the quarterback a lot but he also gets in the throwing lane. He intercepted one against [Michael] Vick last year — he batted it right to himself.
“He does everything well. I don’t think there’s any weakness to his game. He’s hard to run at, he’s hard to run away from.”
Dockett is listed at 6-4, 290, a little smaller than the typical 3-4 end, which Logan Mankins said plays in Dockett’s favor.
“He’s athletic — no doubt everyone in the NFL is, but he’s a very high-effort guy, he’s always playing very hard, trying to get up the field, always hustling to the ball, so that’s, I think, his biggest attribute,” Mankins said. “For the position he plays, he’s a little lighter than a lot of those guys, so that kind of makes him a little bit quicker and maybe more athletic.”
To combat the Cardinals, who blitz a lot and led the league in third-down defense and were second in red-zone defense in 2011, it will take preparation, technique, and perhaps a bit more communication from the Patriots’ offensive line.
“They do blitz a lot and you just have to be prepared for it,’’ said Mankins. “I think the play-caller is always aware of it and as linemen we’re always aware of it, that there’s always a good chance of pressure and we have to be ready for it.
“If we’ve done enough studying and we see our keys we shouldn’t have to talk a whole lot, but there’s going to be times in the game where they might confuse us with the amount of things they do and we’ll just have to get to the sideline and learn from that.”
Guard/center Donald Thomas added, “I think if your technique isn’t right, if your hands aren’t right, speed can kill you, that’s the hardest thing for us . . . You try to cover them up, but if you don’t use good footwork and hand placement, you’ll never beat them.”
The Cardinals have two former Patriots: safety James Sanders and offensive lineman Rich Ohrnberger.
Sanders, who spent last season with the Falcons after being released by the Patriots out of training camp, is listed as the backup free safety behind Kerry Rhodes. Ohrnberger, released by the Patriots this offseason, is the top reserve at center and right guard.
“James is a very good pro. He brings a lot to the table,” said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. “We’re excited that we have him and I think that when you’re putting together a team you have to have the right type of guys, and he’s one of those guys.”
Sanders did not play a snap on defense in the opener against the Seahawks, but had one tackle on special teams. Ohrnberger also was in uniform.
“I’m very pleased and fortunate that we have Rich,” Whisenhunt said.
“He’d done a great job at camp, brings a lot to the table for us from his ability to play both guard and center. He fits in well with our group.”
News from home
Thomas, who played at Connecticut and is a native of the Nutmeg State, didn’t know Jim Calhoun was stepping down as men’s basketball coach until a reporter asked him about it Thursday morning.
“Wow . . . as long as I’ve been a kid, growing up in Connecticut, it’s been Calhoun and [UConn women’s basketball coach Geno] Auriemma,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be a big blow for UConn and UConn’s family, and the whole state of Connecticut.
“But he’s had a lot of health issues lately. We’ll see what happens with the program. After this year, with the down year, with the whole [NCAA sanctions], we’ll see how they rebuild. Whoever steps up in that has some big shoes to fill.”
Connolly practices Continued...