Cards looking to extend linebacker

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. -- Daryl Washington enters his third season with the Arizona Cardinals as a critical cog at the heart of a defense that is supposed to be the team's strength.

The inside linebacker also is the next target for a contract extension by the team's front office.

"He's a very talented player and he has demonstrated that he's the type of guy that we want in our program for the long term," general manager Rod Graves said during practice on Monday. "We're hoping we can get to a point where we can sit down and talk about extending our relationship with him. He certainly is one that we're focused on doing that with."

Washington also wants an extension.

"I certainly want to be here for a long time. This is where I want to end my career, hopefully," he said.

Washington said there has been "talk back and forth" between his agent and the Cardinals.

"No offer yet," Washington said, "but hopefully we'll get something done sooner or later.

From the day he walked on the field as a second-round draft pick out of TCU, Washington has excelled.

"We knew we had a very talented young player, but he had to learn how to play in our scheme," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "He's put on a little weight and he's gotten a little stronger. Daryl is a very fast player, but you have to play within the strict discipline of the defense in order to be an effective player."

After a solid rookie year, Washington was the Cardinals' runaway leader last season in tackles with 107 and solo tackles with 95. Paris Lenon, Washington's fellow inside linebacker, was second with 93 tackles. Cornerback Richard Marshall, no longer with the team, was second in solo tackles with 69. Washington was third on the team with five sacks.

At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, he is blessed with tremendous speed, something he calls "maybe God's gift," that allows him to become one of the leading defensive playmakers on the field.

That speed. Whisenhunt said, can be a detriment "if you're blowing through the hole and leaving it open on the backside."

"What Daryl has done is he's gotten better at laying technique and he can really be a force," the coach said. "He's a physical guy. He understands when he has to fall back and make a tackle or when he can shoot the back and be aggressive and make the tackle."

Washington said his goal is to be a more consistent player.

"The first two years were a learning curve," he said. "I just want to try to get better and progress every year. Every year I've done that. I just want to continue to do that."

Coordinator Ray Horton's defense often frees Washington to make the big play.

"You've definitely got to be disciplined," Washington said, "but I think this defense, if you look at the scheme, is for the linebacker to make a lot of plays. I'm going to make the best of those opportunities."

Whisenhunt said Washington, besides being an outstanding tackler, is very good in coverage. He had two interceptions last season.

"We feel comfortable with that," Whisenhunt said. "He seems to make a lot of plays. I'm excited to see how he progresses this year."