Emergence of Rolle, has Cards' 'D' soaring

TAMPA, Fla. — The numbers don’t lie. Arizona’s defense gave up a league-worst 36 TD passes this season — nine more than the closest pursuer.

But down the stretch of what has turned out to be a very surreal season for the storybook Cardinals, their secondary has suddenly become a primary reason for the defense’s success, particularly at the right cornerback and free safety positions, where a couple of first-round draft picks have picked up their games at just the right time.

You wouldn’t be lying if you called rookie RCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the 16th overall pick in the 2008 draft, a work in progress. Same goes for FS Antrel Rolle, the eighth overall pick in the 2005 draft, who was a cornerback his first three seasons in the league. But the progress that both of them continue to make has been impressive, to say the least.

As for Rolle, he’s still learning the nuances of his new full-time position and doing everything he can to master his craft. This offseason, he looks forward to spending much of his time working out with Ravens Pro Bowl safety and fellow Miami (Fla.) product Ed Reed.

“I think he is a real student of the game,” Rolle said of Reed. “He understands the game probably better than anyone. I heard he spends 25 hours a week studying film. So I figured if I put in 25 hours, or better yet 25-plus hours, maybe I can get to the same level as him.”

Rolle thoroughly enjoys his new role with the Cardinals.

“Yeah, I really do,” he said. “I’m around the ball a whole lot. I get to see the whole field. I get to help out on blitzes, both against the run and pass. I get to quarterback the defense. That’s a responsibility I’ve been more than willing to take on. It’s been a great fit for the Cardinals as well as myself.”

Rolle adds a unique extra dimension with his uncanny knack for scoring touchdowns once he gets his hands on the ball. He’s returned four of his eight career interceptions for scores, and in the playoff victory over Atlanta, his TD return of a fumble forced by teammate Darnell Dockett was the turning point of the game.

“My thing is, if I get the ball, I want to take it to the house every time and try to help out the offense as much as I can,” Rolle said. “I don’t try to get too outside of myself, but I know that, inside of myself, getting in the endzone is something I can do every time I get the ball in my hands.”

Rolle had some rough stretches at the beginning of the season after missing some time in training camp due to injury.

“As a result, he had to learn on the fly,” Austin said. “There’s no doubt that he’s a good football player, and it’s starting to show. Each week, he’s gotten more comfortable making calls, knowing what angles to take and directing our defense. And I think he will just keep on improving.”