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Keim: Speed good, protection not as much

Posted by Darren Urban on August 24, 2015 – 8:11 am

The Cardinals enter the dog days of training camp with one final week at University of Phoenix Stadium beginning today. And as GM Steve Keim talked about the Cards’ most recent performance, there was no eye-popping news — which, in a preseason where injuries are usually the biggest news, Keim noted correctly that coming out relatively healthy was the top story.

Otherwise, Keim’s thoughts when talking on the “Doug and Wolf Show” on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM:

— He likes the weapons on offense, with the speed at receiver and the versatility at running back, “if we can protect Carson,” Keim said.

“There’s no question in my mind there are some concerns,” Keim said.

Keim said the offensive line messed up a couple of times on combo moves from the defense. Watching the game back myself, it definitely looked like backs Andre Ellington and David Johnson at least once each (and possibly more) missed on chances either to pick up a blitzer or help chip block, one of the reasons there were multiple hits and six first-half sacks by the Chargers.

“It’s one thing to be beat physically, but to blow assignments mentally is unacceptable,” Keim said.

— Keim said he thinks new defensive coordinator James Bettcher is “doing an excellent job,” noting all the blitzing the Cards have done. It did seem like the Cards blitzed almost every play in the last half of the fourth quarter.

— Another Keim shoutout for undrafted rookie defensive tackle Xavier Williams. I will be shocked if Williams does not make this roster.

— Keim thought, other that one sack allowed, that right tackle Bradley Sowell played “pretty good” as a starter. D.J. Humphries, not as much. “He’s a guy on one play looks exactly like the first round pick we selected” and others, not very good, Keim said. “The bottom line is his consistency.” The Cardinals want more — much more — from Humphries. But Keim noted it’s still very early in Humphries’ process. (In other words, he’s not close to a bust.)

— Natural praise for running back David Johnson after that performance.

— There is no leader for the No. 3 quarterback job, although Keim said “Phillip (Sims) looked really patient and poised in the pocket.” I don’t think we’ll ever hear that one is ahead of the other one, not before a decision is made. Keim said both still aren’t consistent enough. And there is still the chance the Cards carry only two QBs on the 53=man roster.


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The race at running back

Posted by Darren Urban on August 18, 2015 – 9:30 am

So now Chris Johnson joins the Cardinals and the team did not get rid of a running back as he walked in the door. It’s a crowded backfield. For the record, the Cards now have Andre Ellington, two Johnsons — David and Chris — Kerwynn Williams, Stepfan Taylor, Marion Grice, Robert Hughes and Paul Lasike.

Johnson — the new one — only signed a one-year contract. He becomes the latest in a line of vets who were wooed by GM Steve Keim for the chance at getting a shot on a good team to revive their contract worth. Frostee Rucker. Matt Shaughnessy. Karlos Dansby. Eric Winston. Antonio Cromartie. LaMarr Woodley. Jermaine Gresham. Even Lyle Sendlein. Johnson reportedly will only make the minimum salary too, unless he rushes for at least 1,300 yards (which a back has never reached since the team moved to Arizona.)

What does all that mean? Well, for starters, if Johnson doesn’t work out the way the Cardinals want through the rest of the preseason, he can be released without much impact on the salary cap ($400,000 is guaranteed.) More likely he’ll simply be part of the rotation. If I had to guess right now, the Cardinals will keep five running backs. Ellington will be the starter. The two Johnsons will be there. After that? I’d think there would be one between Hughes and Lasike as the “big” back — Hughes has the inside track there — and one among Taylor, Williams and Grice. Taylor is good on special teams, and Williams’ game is similar to Ellington’s and Chris Johnson’s (plus, he could go on the practice squad if necessary.)

As for the desire to pick up a veteran and supplanting a recent draft pick, this too is something Keim has already done. The Cardinals drafted inside linebacker Kevin Minter in 2013 in the second round and turned around and signed Dansby just couple weeks later, and Dansby’s play left Minter on the bench all season. Now, David Johnson may have the same thing with Chris Johnson. For Keim, it’s about what the Cardinals can do this year.

RunningBacksShot

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Keim: Johnson update and Chiefs review

Posted by Darren Urban on August 17, 2015 – 8:14 am

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf Show” on Arizona Sports 98.7, acknowledged he has had discussions with the agent for running back Chris Johnson. But as of Monday morning, “there is nothing on the horizon,” Keim said. Johnson was expected to work out for the team. As I’ve said a few times, we’ll see what pans out.

As for Keim’s view of the game:

— He praised a handful of young players for their initial performances: Defensive end Rodney Gunter and linebacker Markus Golden (although he wants to see Golden finish more often), and from the non-rookie side, cornerback Justin Bethel and linebacker Kevin Minter. The latter two are in big years in terms of earning regular position spots on defense.

— As for the first units on both sides of the ball, “I don’t think you could have scripted a better start,” Keim said.

— On Logan Thomas, Keim said he liked the quarterback’s pocket presence. “There are times when he makes some really ‘Wow’ throws,” Keim said. “The question is consistency and I think he played a consistent game.” Keim did note that Thomas completed 11-of-12 passes in the preseason opener last year, so again, it’s about consistency going forward.

— Not surprisingly, he thought tight end Ifeanyi Momah competed and looks like a nice option as receiver, but needs to get better as a blocker in terms of technique since he won’t have the bulk or body type to ever maul as a blocker.

— Keim was happy with the “excellent” play of the starting offensive line and also thought the backup offensive line did a good job. It should, really, since it’s populated with three one-time starters (Sowell, Larsen, Sendlein) and a first-round pick (D.J. Humphries). Keim said Humphries had some technical issues in his first game but showed the physical play and the athleticism the Cards liked when he was drafted.

— Going forward, Keim said there are still many questions open, such as fourth and fifth cornerback, the back end of the wide receiver depth chart, core special teamers. The Cards did come out of the game “relatively healthy,” Keim said.

— As for wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald getting munched by pulling guard Mike Iupati on the Cards’ touchdown run — Fitz was blocking a Chiefs’ defensive back when Iupati came in to clean up and looked like he got mostly Fitz — Keim was blunt. “We all know Larry is a tough guy. He’ll stick his face in the fire.”


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Keim’s first-week analysis of #CardsCamp

Posted by Darren Urban on August 10, 2015 – 8:16 am

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim reiterated today that there could be a trade or two for the Cardinals as the regular season approaches and the team tries to figure out what they do with a couple positions of depth — in particular, the quality group of defensive linemen the team has compiled. He also said, during the first of his weekly appearances on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, that a trade usually comes down to a focus on positions of need rather than the best player available.

As for the Cards’ own positions of need right now, Keim named three spots, all of which have been impacted by early injuries: Running back, inside linebacker and offensive tackle. Running back and tackle, Keim said, are OK when the Cards are healthy and he added Andre Ellington should return to practice this week. (The Cards are also missing David Johnson and Marion Grice, while young tackles D.J. Humphries and Rob Crisp are also out.)

One position Keim is bullish on is tight end. He praised Ifeanyi Momah a ton, which just falls in line with what has been easy to see on the field. Momah has been OK blocking — he’s definitely missed a couple during 11-on-11, but he will be a receiver-first tight end, and he does that well — while Keim also is happy with Darren Fells and is excited about Jermaine Gresham. Now, if Troy Niklas can get back and going …

— Keim, like Bruce Arians, wouldn’t put a timeline on Michael Floyd’s return, but he noted how focused Floyd was before he got hurt and reiterated what a big season this is for Floyd and his future in Arizona.

— The defensive line is deep and talented. Rookie Rodney Gunter is flashing what the Cards had hoped, and there is a belief Gunter can work at nose tackle as well as defensive end. Keim also said Corey Peters is having a good camp.

 

— Keim believes guard Jonathan Cooper has lost the “hitch” he developed after breaking his leg and looks like he did when he was trending up in his rookie training camp. He also praised the camp of inside linebacker Kevin Minter and outside linebacker Alex Okafor.

 


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Recent history says Gresham will help

Posted by Darren Urban on July 24, 2015 – 9:59 pm

There are questions, fair ones, about what tight end Jermaine Gresham will bring to the Cardinals now that he has agreed to a one-year contract. (With the roster already at 90, the Cards will have to release someone once Gresham officially signs.) But as usual with GM Steve Keim’s prove-it deals, there is very little downside to make the move and the potential of real upside.

Assuming Gresham is healthy after back surgery — and he would’ve had to have passed a physical already — he gives the Cards a receiving target that has done it in the NFL, which the Cards did not have on the roster. It gives the Cards experience, period, which the Cards didn’t have. Plus, he played some with Carson Palmer, and while Gresham has had issues with consistency, Palmer is the type of leader that can help in that regard.

As of now, it’s hard to imagine Gresham not as starter assuming he plays as expected. And thus far, these kinds of Keim signings — Winston, Abraham, Dansby, Cromartie — have turned out pretty well.


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TE Fells as “secret superstar”

Posted by Darren Urban on June 17, 2015 – 3:01 pm

Every year the website profootballfocus.com compiles a list of players it dubs “secret superstars” — guys who are under the radar but have the potential to break out in some way, shape or form. Their choice for the Cardinals is tight end Darren Fells, which makes a lot of sense given the circumstances.

It’s pointed out that Fells does his best work as a blocker, and at this point, it’s obvious that is what Bruce Arians is looking for first from his tight ends. What strikes me is Fells’ possibility as a leader at the position. Fells is modest, in keeping with his humble NFL beginnings being late to the party after playing professional basketball overseas. He is still inexperienced but he isn’t young — he’s 29 — and the tight ends room needs a voice now that John Carlson has retired. He is definitely playing with more confidence now than he did when he showed up in 2013 or even late last season when he was getting some playing time.

“Superstar” is a loaded term. Fells isn’t going to turn into Antonio Gates. (At least, I don’t think he will.) The Cardinals will need more from the position. Troy Niklas, another blocker-first, is a guy who has to come along, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim bring in a veteran tight end when training camp begins. But on a team that needs steady tight end play, I think PFF is on the right track in pegging Fells as a guy who can deliver.

DarrenFells


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Keim: Potential trades coming

Posted by Darren Urban on June 11, 2015 – 12:01 pm

General Manager Steve Keim has spent the offseason building up the roster to a place where the Cardinals have some quality players on the current 90-man roster that won’t be able to stick around by the time the team needs to get to 53 in September. Keim said on the “Doug and Wolf” show this morning on Arizona Sports 98.7 it was a concern, although it was a good concern. What it means is that the Cards might pull off a trade or two, likely in an effort to fetch some future draft picks if possible.

“For the first time we have a certain amount of depth here where we will either have the ability to trade a player or two or four or five at certain positions that not only can make other NFL rosters but could potentially start for some teams,” Keim said. “I have to be active and make sure I address that situation so we are not just releasing players and allowing teams to pick them up. Hopefully we can be active and get some solid value for guys who can help other teams.”

Keim has never been shy about churning the roster, and this is just another potential instance. He also said he is “watching two or three players” at the moment who are free agents that the team could sign. Keim wouldn’t name names or even positions, but he did note that often times, these late veteran signees are guys who are coming off injuries and need until near training camp to get right, and then the Cardinals would talk to them (and likely execute one of Keim’s famous one-year “prove it” contracts.) Tight end anyone?

Mini1.BASKuse


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Some cap room with which to work

Posted by Darren Urban on June 3, 2015 – 2:14 pm

As the final days of on-field summer work play out — the Cardinals have one more OTA Thursday, and then three days of mandatory minicamp next week before players scatter for the remainder of the offseason — the roster has settled. The last move came back on May 13 when linebacker Darryl Sharpton was signed, and with the front office members headed for some much needed down time of their own, transactions figure to be in limited supply until the pre-training camp rollup in late July.

(Official camp dates have yet to be announced but with Labor Day and the later-than-usual opening weekend of the regular season on Sept. 13, the Cards won’t even report to camp until July 30 or 31.)

There are moves than can be made if the Cards want, however. As of Wednesday, the Cardinals have $12.16 million in salary cap room, according to the NFLPA. So if Steve Keim is looking for that pre-training camp veteran add (which wouldn’t cost that much anyway), the Cards can do it. It also allows some freedom to work out contract extensions if the team is so inclined. I’d expect Pro Bowl special teamer Justin Bethel, set to become an unrestricted free agent, near or at the front of that line. Among the other players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after this season: defensive backs Jerraud Powers, Rashad Johnson and Alfonzo Dennard, tackle Bobby Massie, linebackers Sean Weatherspoon and Lorenzo Alexander, defensive end Matt Shaughnessy and quarterback Drew Stanton.

BethelCapBlog


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The gains and losses of free agency

Posted by Darren Urban on May 18, 2015 – 10:44 am

The Cardinals signed linebacker Darryl Sharpton last week and the timing meant something. By signing Sharpton Wednesday, the Cardinals cleared the date for free agents signing counting against them for next year’s compensatory pick equation. Any free agent signed at the point will not count.

(The Cardinals were awarded one comp pick this past draft; they ended up with the final selection of the whole thing, which they used on Lousiville tight end Gerald Christian.)

It’s too early to know exactly how the comp pick equation might play out. Part of how it’s determined is playing time in the upcoming season. It also takes into account how much money for which each player signed. A quick look at who the Cardinals could have counting for and against them in the comp pick equation next draft. As always, a quick reminder that if a player was cut by the Cards or cut by another team, he does not qualify on these lists. For example, losing Darnell Dockett does not factor in because Dockett was released.:

FREE AGENTS GAINED

G Mike Iupati (5 years, $40M)
DT Corey Peters (3 years, $10.5M)
DE Cory Redding (2 years, $6M)
LB Sean Weatherspoon (1 year, $3.6M)

FREE AGENTS LOST

LB Sam Acho (1 year, $825,000)
CB Antonio Cromartie (4 years, $32M)
G Paul Fanaika (3 years, $6.1M)
TE Rob Housler (1 year, $1.76M)
DT Dan Williams (4 years, $25M)

It wouldn’t be a surprise to see GM Steve Keim make another signing (or two) at some point before camp, or even into camp. But the numbers are set for the compensatory math.

FAcompblog


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#CardsDraft aftermath

Posted by Darren Urban on May 2, 2015 – 7:01 pm

The NFL draft, in reality, was the shortest time-wise as it has ever been. It didn’t seem that way when we were sitting around waiting after the second of the Cardinals’ two fifth-round picks all the way until the Cards’ next pick, which was the last of the whole thing. Now that it’s over, and there is little question Steve Keim had a plan that wasn’t chalk. But I’ll say this as I do after every draft — I have no idea how this will turn out. No one does.

The pick with which I’m most intrigued? Markus Golden. The Cards weren’t the only ones who talked about how he kept showing up on video when watching Missouri play. Is that enough to break through on the NFL level? And will he be the first second-rounder since Daryl Washington to make an immediate impact? But there are plenty of intriguing guys here. I thought it was telling when Keim said today that the tough part is projecting guys who can make the team in the Cards’ current state.

How these guys fit it this season, well, that’s what the offseason and training camp is all about.

A few more wrap-up thoughts:

— There were plenty scratching their heads after the Cards picked Delaware State DE Rodney Gunter in the fourth round, and that was more vigorous when adding in the trade up to do so. But Keim and Bruce Arians both said they had reliable intel that multiple teams were on the Gunter in the fourth round. When that happens, and when it’s a guy you want and you have draft pick ammo to do so, you trade up. Keim knows it was a surprise to most. He plans on it being a pleasant surprise.

— The personality of first-round pick D.J. Humphries is real. He drew laughs when he called himself an “awesome person” during his conference call, but during his press conference, he simply wins the room with his smile and demeanor. Easy guy to root for, especially when you read the story about him and his father, who was 15 when D.J. was born.

“My dad always told me when I was a kid, if you be yourself then people are going to love you,” Humphries said.

— Humphries has never been to an NFL game, interestingly.

— Gunter is cousins with the Cardinals’ seventh-round selection, TE D.C. Jefferson. Jefferson had a quick and bumpy tenure with the team, getting a tattoo during the preseason of a birdhead on his torso even though his place on the team was no sure thing. He made it, but was released a few weeks later after a DUI. Gunter said he and Jefferson are “very close but we lost contact for over a year because he has some personal issues going on. I wish him the best.”

— Fifth-round wide receiver J.J. Nelson is one of the last players to be drafted from the University of Alabama-Birmingham now that UAB has shuttered its football program. The school provided an in for Nelson during his visit to the Cardinals; the son of coach Bruce Arians, Jake Arians, played football at UAB.

“When I came to visit, I ran into Coach Arians,” Nelson said. “He said, ‘J.J., I already know you. You’re a Blazer. We love UAB.’ … I just felt like everything fell in my hands in the right direction.”

— It wasn’t all draft at the Tempe facility Saturday. Yes, it was the weekend, but there was quarterback Carson Palmer, working out in his quest to come back from a torn ACL. Significant nose to the grindstone.

— Time for football. The Cardinals are on the field Monday for the first time as Phase 2 of the offseason work begins. Rookie minicamp starts Friday.

afterdraftblog


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