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Wilks’ QB input: “A whole lot”

Posted by Darren Urban on February 22, 2018 – 3:30 pm

Steve Wilks, who makes it clear of his conviction in whatever he might be talking about, took a few questions today prior to an open interview session with his offensive assistants. One of the questions was a very basic one, especially for a head coach with a defensive background: How much input will you have on the decision for the next quarterback?

“Have a lot of input in it,” Wilks said. “A whole lot.”

“We’re going to work together to make sure we bring the right guy in here,” Wilks added. “Coaches are watching tape and evaluating as well. (GM) Steve Keim and myself are constantly talking and communicate about our gameplan of what we want to do. Anyone coming on this roster I will have a definite input and major factor in bringing them in.”

That Wilks would have a large say isn’t a surprise, especially after Keim and Michael Bidwill talked during the coaching search that having such QB input was one of the selling points to a candidate. There is little question, however, how strongly Wilks feels about the process and his place in it.


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In the wake of Steve Wilks arrival

Posted by Darren Urban on January 22, 2018 – 3:44 pm

The wait is over, and even with all the talk/speculation about potential assistant coaches hung up working in the playoffs, the Cardinals, Michael Bidwill and Steve Keim went with a man whose team was sent home a couple of weeks ago — Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

This comes with all the caveats, the same ones that show up with every head coach. We won’t know what this means on the field until September at the earliest. Even in the case of Bruce Arians, when the Cards stumbled around for half a season, it took a minute for things to settle in. And as we all know, Wilks’ first year will be dictated in part by a quarterback that we not yet know. Well, we might know of him, we just don’t know if which one will be the Cardinals’ guy.

All that said, in my brief interaction with Wilks today, you can see why he can command a room. Michael Bidwill said recently that in the second round of interviews, usually someone stands out, and I can see why that would have been Wilks. We will see how his staff builds out. But now, the offseason feels like it can officially get started.

— No official word yet on assistants, but there has been some speculation. Jason LaCanfora reported that the Cards will have former Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in for an interview. Bevell interviewed for the Cardinals’ vacant head coaching job in 2013 that went to Arians and is a product of Scottsdale Chaparral High School. Meanwhile, LaCanfora said Panthers offensive line coach Ray Brown (who began a long NFL playing career with three years as a Cardinal) could be coming to Arizona, with Joe Person saying Panthers linebackers coach Al Holcomb could be as well.

One thing to remember about all the assistant coach talk and speculation is that while some names will accurately land on staff, others won’t, for various reasons. It always plays out like that.

— There are some Cardinals assistants still under contract that Wilks will undoubtedly sort through over the next couple of days. I know many are asking, but there is nothing yet about what might happen with defensive coordinator James Bettcher.

— Speaking of defense, yes, Wilks ran a 4-3 in Carolina. The personnel he has inherited is for a 3-4 base. Something is going to have to change, although do not forget that the vast majority of defensive snaps these days are spent in packages that usually include extra defensive backs. And when the Cards rush in obvious passing situations, they line up with four up front anyway.

— I’m thinking it’s too early to know what the impact of Wilks is on Larry Fitzgerald’s decision. I’d think he’d want to know who the offensive staff will be first.

— The Wilks press conference is Tuesday at noon, and it’ll be streamed live on azcardinals.com. (Thanks to the Panthers for the pic.)


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Talking coaches, roster and a podcast

Posted by Darren Urban on January 4, 2018 – 3:18 pm

The Cardinals will be conducting coaching interviews on the road over the next few days as they move toward finding a new football boss. When it comes to the idea that Michael Bidwill pointed out yesterday — that he wanted potential coaches to have a chance to visit Arizona and the team’s Tempe facility and interact with staff — I don’t think we are talking about every single person. My guess is that you’d have to have caught the Cardinals’ eye. If the initial interview doesn’t intrigue Bidwill or GM Steve Keim, I don’t see it going further necessarily. But we will see. It’s always an interesting time of year when a potential coach could end up being busy into February if his team makes it to the Super Bowl, and then having his “new” team having to wait it out. Could that be the Cards?

— My annual roster breakdown can be found right here. It gives the contract status of virtually everyone, so yes, it includes who will be free agents in March.

— Our weekly Cardinals Underground podcast is right here. I believe it’s always a good listen with myself, Kyle Odegard and Paul Calvisi (so if you can, get in the habit of checking us out, assuming you don’t already.) This week’s episode has a special treat at the end: A “Best of Bruce Arians” soundbites montage put together by Jim Omohundro. It was certainly an interesting five years.


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Keim: Learn from 2017, no “woe is me”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 26, 2017 – 8:16 am

The Cardinals are analyzing their free-agents-to-be and with some of them, the team has/will be formulating extension offers, General Manager Steve Keim said Tuesday during an appearance on 98.7, Arizona’s Sports Station. The players Keim wants back are, not surprisingly, not only competitors on the field but good in the locker room. That was a focus last year as well.

“That’s an ongoing process and we have made some of those players extension offers,” Keim said. “The bottom line is we have a lot of work to do, as I said last week.

“We’ve dealt with enough adversity this year with the injuries and with some of the losses, so we have to make sure we use this season and, in particular, our issues that we have dealt with, as learning things, where we can look back and grow from it instead of having the attitude of ‘woe is me.’ That is something I believe in wholeheartedly, not only on the scouting side of it but as an organization in general.”

— The many injuries have made it more difficult to evaluate some key players here and there, Keim acknowledged, but “at the end of the day there are still one-on-one battles these guys have to win.”

— Does having a chance to knock the Seahawks out of the playoffs mean a lot for Sunday? “Anytime you are playing a division rival it’s big regardless of what is at stake,” Keim said. “We are all competitors. We want to win every game. In my opinion, you can’t look at where your draft slot could potentially be. Let the chips fall where they may. We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our organization to compete every week and to try and put the best product on the field. We will deal with draft and free agency when it comes. This week our mindset is to go up to Seattle and get a win.”

— The Cardinals’ first shutout since 1992 “says a lot of things about players on the field and the character in our locker room.” Keim credited the game planning of defensive coordinator James Bettcher. He also said he though $LB Deone Bucannon not only played his best game of the season, he had arguably his best game in the NFL, period. Chandler Jones provided pressure and drew a couple of holding calls, Frostee Rucker and Karlos Dansby are invaluable leaders, and safety Antoine Bethea was “exceptional” in getting a pair of interceptions.

— Keim added his thoughts to the huge game of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who Keim said took over the game offensively. “There’s no doubt he willed us to win on offense.”

— Keim added that it was nice to see John Brown contribute with a touchdown and a key third-down conversion with his two catches.


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Cards will need hard look at receiving position

Posted by Darren Urban on December 20, 2017 – 12:08 pm

It’s hard not to notice, when you jump on the Cardinals’ stat page to see where Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers are and then the disparity with the rest of the receiving corps — a group that once again was expected to be a strength but like 2016, has not been. With two games left in the regular season, it is still the departed Andre Ellington (who was cut five games ago) second on the team with 33 catches. Fitzgerald’s 92 receptions is nine more catches than all the other wide receivers this season combined.

If David Johnson had been healthy all season, you’d expect a running back to be high on the receptions list, just like last year. But Johnson didn’t even make it through a game, and once he went down, the pressure went to the receivers to make up for it in the passing game. There are factors involved here — the pass protection has not been consistent, especially with all the injuries on the offensive line. Starting quarterback Carson Palmer only played half the season. But it’s clear that receiver — after only the QB spot and offensive line — will be a position of focus for General Manager Steve Keim this offseason.

Even if Fitzgerald comes back to play another season (which he has not said he will for sure yet), the Cardinals need to address wide receiver. John Brown and Jaron Brown will be unrestricted free agents. J.J. Nelson, who started strong and then struggled through inconsistency catching the ball, will be back. Chad Williams enters an important offseason after a nondescript rookie year. Brittan Golden, who is more important on special teams, has to heal from a broken arm and is also a free-agent-to-be.

After 2015, when the receiving unit was excellent and looked like it would be for a few years, the group hasn’t been the same. Losing Michael Floyd and having John Brown’s production fall off so precipitously has been a killer. Again, other spots will get more attention on offense. The quarterback thing has reached a critical point, and the long-term offensive line has to be found. But wide receiver will also be in the spotlight.


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Keim: No IR-return candidates and Gabbert desire

Posted by Darren Urban on December 11, 2017 – 8:15 am

Long snapper Aaron Brewer should be ready to return to the active roster this week, coming off of injured reserve. But, as the Cardinals have been saying for a while. GM Steve Keim emphasized Monday: That other available IR-to-return spot very well could go unused.

“You have to have someone healthy enough to return,” Keim said during an appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. “At this point, I don’t see any guys coming back for sure.”

But what about David Johnson? Is keeping the star running back, coming back from a bad wrist, more about saving him for 2018? Keim said no.

“He gets paid to play football,” Keim said, adding that if Johnson was healthy and was cleared by the doctors, he should return to the field. “But if there are any gray areas, I don’t know why you’d want to risk it.”

Johnson has been working on conditioning, but hasn’t returned to practice — obviously, since the clock would start in that case.

— There were a couple of free-agents-to-be Keim talked about. One was quarterback Blaine Gabbert. “I don’t think there is any question we would like to have Blaine back,” Keim said, although he did not say in what capacity. Keim said it was up to Gabbert how much the QB can improve, although I don’t think there is any question the Cardinals will continue to search for a long-term answer at the position.

Keim also praised 34-year-old CB Tramon Williams, also a potential FA. He was asked if Williams was someone the Cards wanted to bring back. Keim went big-picture with his answer, not talking necessarily about Williams directly but saying that’s part of the daily process right now, talking with players about potential extensions and is something the Cards will be involved in this week. (I think it makes sense to consider bringing back Williams, although the age will be a factor in talks.)

Keim called Williams a “true pro,” noting that while he might have lost a step over the years, his anticipation and instincts are “phenomenal.”

— As for Gabbert, Keim praised the QB’s ability to bounce back after something has gone wrong. He did note Gabbert’s throws tend to get a little high when he has to go through his progressions or if he is throwing outside the numbers.

— Keim also said there was plenty of blame for the eight sacks, naming not only the offensive line but blitz pick-up by the running backs, Gabbert’s failure to get rid of the ball a time or two and even the receivers’ inability to get open sometimes.

— A general note on accuracy: Keim said it is something that can be improved a little bit, but mostly it’s innate — “You have it or you don’t” he said. (P.S. I agree with this. Accuracy can’t be learned, IMO.)

— There was praise for linebacker Josh Bynes “He’s very very consistent, savvy and physical,” Keim said. “To come in late in process like that, I’m extremely proud of the way he’s played.” There was also praise for defensive linemen Olsen Pierre, Frostee Rucker and of course Chandler Jones. “He’s been a dominant force all year,” Keim said

— Finally, there was a word on Larry Fitzgerald becoming third all-time in receiving yards in the NFL. “For me, it’s just been an honor to work with him,” Keim said. “Knowing he will retire as a Cardinal gives me a special feeling.” (P.S. II We don’t know when Fitz is retiring yet.)


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Keim: Special teams “unacceptable”

Posted by Darren Urban on December 4, 2017 – 8:17 am

GM Steve Keim was, like Bruce Arians, satisfied with the effort from the Cardinals Sunday in a loss to the Rams, but noted that the execution “on all three sides of the ball” wasn’t good enough. Obviously, special teams was part of that, with the blocked field goal, the blocked extra point and a long punt return helping derail any Cardinals’ hopes.

Keim, during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 was asked directly about the status of special teams coordinator Amos Jones.

“I’m never going to go on record or publicly and bash any of our players individually or one of our coaches,” Keim said. “The bottom line though is, there’s no excuse. Our special teams, it’s been unacceptable, point blank. It’s something that needs to improve and I’ll just leave it at that.”

— Keim reiterated that quarterback Blaine Gabbert has a “skillset that intrigues you,” but that Gabbert needs to find more consistency. Watching Gabbert play now, and what he does, are all “critical moments” in the evaluation of the future. Improvement is still possible, Keim said.

— Then again, when it comes to the QB spot for the Cardinals in 2018, Keim said the team will “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to filling the position. He obviously cannot talk specific players, but the search will include potential free-agent signings as well as the draft (and that doesn’t even include assessing the Carson Palmer situation.)

— The first player Keim mentioned by name, unprompted, was running back Kerwynn Williams, who stats included 97 rushing yards and a couple of cracked ribs. Keim loves Williams’ toughness, and “every time he’s gotten an opportunity, he’s stepped up.”

— The Cardinals indeed have had a ton of injuries. But “I don’t think you can ever use injuries as an excuse,” Keim said, noting that he has spent much time over the years looking at the depth chart in his office envisioning what would happen if this guy or that guy got hurt and what the Cards would be in position to do.

“That’s on me,” Keim said. “I have to do a better job going forward.” Keim added “the longer you do this, it teaches you different lessons in terms of building a team and building depth.”

— “There’s a chance” Adrian Peterson (neck) will be able to return this week, Keim said. DL Corey Peters and WR John Brown could return this week too.

— Signing Peters to an extension was important, Keim said. “He’s a player to me who is under the radar.” A leader in the locker room and who plays a crucial role in the defense, the Cardinals consider him a core member.


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Keim: Low risk, possible reward of Blaine Gabbert

Posted by Darren Urban on November 27, 2017 – 8:23 am

Blaine Gabbert said after the game that he is just playing — there is no thinking about being on a one-year contract, or about the idea he is auditioning for a future role with the Cardinals. General Manager Steve Keim wasn’t saying he isn’t thinking about Gabbert in terms of the future, but even Keim — during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7 — wasn’t saying exactly what Gabbert might be. He’d only say that, well, Gabbert might be something.

“It’s no different than the reason we signed him in the springtime,” Keim said. “It was very little risk to possibly a high reward. A lot of people scoffed at the fact that we signed him and I don’t think they were very high on that decision, but at the end of the day, I liked him coming out (of college), coach (Bruce Arians) liked him a lot coming out. He’s always had the physical gifts. What was the real risk involved to sign a guy to be the third quarterback?

“The fact that he has stepped up, he’s looked poised and he got a lot of patience in this offense, he’s been a great fit so far and he’s worked his tail off off the field. This gives you the confidence as a general manager and as a coach to make these decisions and hopefully it pays off moving forward.”

I don’t think there’s much question that Gabbert will continue to start regardless of Drew Stanton’s health, but I am sure Arians will be asked later today.

— More Keim on Gabbert: The GM said he couldn’t stop watching the final pass the QB threw, a dart on the run to running back D.J. Foster. Gabbert eluded the rush, running toward the line of scrimmage before he launched. “The way (the ball) jumps out of his hand is phenomenal,” Keim said. He added that he didn’t know what was more impressive on the play, Gabbert’s throw of Foster’s toe-tapping catch.

— He praised Gabbert and the whole team for staying with it despite losing a 16-3 lead and falling behind 17-16 on the Calais Campbell fumble return. “It was a point in the game when you could have had a ‘woe is me’ attitude,” Keim said. The Cards did not.

— Keim was asked about Campbell. He said “I love Calais” but then the GM noted that the big reason Campbell was allowed to walk as a free agent was because that was the money the Cards allocated for the huge contract of OLB Chandler Jones — who, with two sacks and five tackles for loss, leads the NFL in both categories.

— On kicker Phil Dawson, who made all four of his field goals, including the game-winning 57-yarder: “Phil was money,” Keim said. “That’s the guy we signed.”

— Keim said he was happy for safety Tyrann Mathieu, who had arguably his best game. “Sometimes you forget is that the guy has been through quite a few traumatic injuries,” Keim said. “It’s one thing to come back from the physical aliments but to come back and play with the confidence mentally. That’s an obstacle we all have to go through when we incur those types of injuries. He’s coming back into form, he’s always been an instinctive player, and to see him come up with that interception … that can build on the confidence going forward.”

— Keim said it was one of the offensive line’s best games as a unit. He also liked the play of young players like Budda Baker, Foster and Chad Williams, and raved about tight end-who-can-split-wide Ricky Seals-Jones. “He’s a guy we really haven’t had in this offense for a long time,” Keim said — a tight end that can create mismatches.

— On Arians passing up going for it on fourth down and punting, a smart move, after the Cards failed on fourth down the week before, Keim said he had no doubt Arians would make the safe play. “He’s beaten himself up pretty good,” Keim added.


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Keim: Looking at receivers, and Gabbert praise

Posted by Darren Urban on November 20, 2017 – 8:13 am

Bruce Arians said after the game Sunday he would be looking at different receivers potentially going forward. GM Steve Keim echoed that sentiment Monday during his appearance on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7.

“We’ve been looking at wide receivers in a lot of different scenarios,” Keim said, noting that the current group — outside of Larry Fitzgerald — haven’t made the plays they had made in the past. That includes consideration of signing guys off the street, Keim said, as well as potentially poaching one from another team’s practice squad.

Who is catching the ball is one of the storylines going forward, as is who is throwing it. Keim praised Blaine Gabbert’s play —  calling him decisive, saying he got the ball out quick and was accurate “for the most part” — as one of three players who really jumped out to him on a positive note. (The other two, of course, were Budda Baker and Ricky Seals-Jones.) He said Gabbert wasn’t helped by a lack of run game or the drops. (A quick aside: Pro Football Focus said the Cardinals only dropped two passes but it’s clear Arians and Keim thought it was more. Keim said six in his interview. I’d have to go back and watch, but at first glance I didn’t not think Sunday was as bad as the Seahawks game.)

Keim gave no hints on who might start at quarterback this coming week. He did say Drew Stanton’s knee was healing quicker than expected. He also said the quarterback decision would be made by Arians, but “we’ll talk it through and it’ll be a team decision.” (In my opinion, it sounded like Keim would lean to giving Gabbert another start. We will see.)

— The inability to run the football is getting under Keim’s skin. “Some of it is getting our tail whipped at the point of attack, some of it is fundamentals,” he said. Keim was disappointed in the blocking from the tight ends, and it the ability to block at the second level.

— Baker is “fun to watch. He plays at a different speed.” Keim loves both his explosive movement, his physical play and how much ground he can cover. He is “fantastic” in pass coverage, Keim added.

— Asked about the fourth down call, Keim said “I have a lot of faith in Coach.” Noted that Arians did drop passes, miss tackles or get dominated on the line of scrimmage, all of which were issues Sunday.

— Keim was asked about, with a 4-6 record, he was now going to focus on the future in terms of roster building and also perhaps how the Cardinals determine playing time. Keim said he’s looking at every scenario as always, scanning practice squads for other players, scouting college players, combining a look at the future as well as now. In terms of playing time, he used the Seals-Jones example of giving a guy a shot who also in term makes things better short-term. “If other guys aren’t getting it done, give other guys an opportunity,” Keim said.


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Keim: “I would not bet against” Stanton

Posted by Darren Urban on November 14, 2017 – 8:11 am

Not surprisingly, GM Steve Keim didn’t have a lot of quarterback answers as he talked Tuesday morning on the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7. First thing was that he noted the Cardinals had yet to practice this week. The team gets a “bonus” practice today, and coach Bruce Arians will meet with the media later, with everyone wondering the health status of starter Drew Stanton’s knee.

“Drew is extremely tough,” Keim said “He’s the type of guy I would not bet against.”

If Blaine Gabbert did start, Keim said, Arians would cater to Gabbert’s strengths, which points to Gabbert’s athleticism. “I thought he looked comfortable when he had the opportunity to play early on (in preseason),” Keim said.

Keim said the idea of putting Gabbert in just to see what Gabbert can do going forward — balancing against the Cardinals having the best chance to win — is not a simple question. “You can go back and forth with that question,” Keim said, saying that if you turned permanently to Gabbert now and he struggled, “would you go back to Drew?” After Carson Palmer got hurt, Keim added, Stanton gave the Cardinals the best chance to win. Thursday was a good example, Keim said, because “Drew couldn’t have played much better. The receiving corps, frankly, let us down.”

— An interesting note with who could come off injured reserve. Keim called the process “fluid” and said there were five potential players who could still come back (the Cardinals can bring two players back total): Palmer, running backs David Johnson and T.J. Logan, guard Mike Iupati and … long snapper Aaron Brewer.

— Keim said there was no reason to overthink the signing of QB Matt Barkley. With Stanton banged up, it was an easy pickup of someone who has spent more than a year in the Arians offense and, if Stanton was out and Gabbert started and went down, Barkley “gives you an opportunity if he was forced into playing.”

— The move of Jared Veldheer back to left tackle was obvious at this point because the Cardinals wanted to have their best five offensive linemen on the field. “The sad part for me is that D.J. Humphries was playing so well,” Keim said. Keim reiterated Arians’ statement that Humphries should be healthy once the Cardinals’ offseason program commences in the spring.

— The Cardinals were already trying to get rookie safety Budda Baker more defensive snaps “because he earned it” but that will be accelerated with Tyvon Branch’s season-ending injury. Branch’s loss hurts on the field and the locker room, Keim said, but there is an excitement in seeing more from Baker, who has been the Cards’ best special teams player. “His ability to cover ground really puts him in a place where he can be a special player, in my opinion,” Keim said.


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