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Keim Time: Tyrann Mathieu making plays, but still needs to improve

Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) walks the sidelines during the second half of a preseason NFL football game against the Chicago Bears, Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals general manager

The Arizona Cardinals are 60 percent of the way through their 2017 preseason schedule.

Their third game was an exciting one as it came down to the last play in a 24-23 loss to the Chicago Bears Saturday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, but it was easily the worst performance of the preseason by the Cardinals. Bruce Arians’ team now heads into its final week of training camp in Glendale and gets ready for a road trip to Atlanta to take on the Falcons at the brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday.

General manager Steve Keim joins Doug and Wolf every Monday morning following a game on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station, and shares his thoughts on what he saw and the roster-building process moving forward.

Do general managers get excited for the end of training camp?

Well, I enjoy training camp. It’s a great tool, to not only to get to know your players on the field, but we live in a hotel, so you spend some time off the field getting to know them as people, as well. It’s part of the process, and if anything, I’m getting anxious for the final cutdown process because it’s going to be really different from years past when you’re going from 90 to 53.

How does breaking camp impact the front office?

Nothing. Everything that is critical to our job is moved up here to the stadium, so we’re able to do everything we do back home, whether it’s watching film — both on the pro and the college side — and the meeting room space here is excellent. The whole setup is fantastic. For any fans who haven’t been out here to see any of our preseason practices, you’ve got a couple more days to do it, and I would certainly highly recommend it.

The Patriots are taking joint-practices to a new level this year. I know you enjoyed it last year against the Chargers — do you want to see the Cardinals do more joint practices in the future?

I don’t think there’s any question. I think the one thing that happens to a particular team is you get the preseason schedule generally around draft time, and this year, there were just some moving parts we had to work around. Not many teams want to practice with an opposing team in Week 1 (of camp). It’s generally done between weeks 2 and 3 or weeks 3 and 4. That’s something that we’re going to look forward to talking about next year. Michael (Bidwill), Coach and I will sit down and try to hammer at least one or two teams to practice with, because of the intensity and the fact that you’re not hitting on your own guys all the time — which these guys get tired of — I think it’s really beneficial.

What were the positives that you saw against the Bears Saturday night?

There are some guys that have done some nice things and have done nice things since we’ve come here for camp. I would say this: I was not very happy with the intensity and urgency we played with. It felt like, in my opinion, we played the game like it was a preseason game. You didn’t see the little things, whether it was setting a defensive front or coming to balance and making a tackle in space. There were way too many missed tackles. So that needs to be improved and needs to be cleaned up. Little things, whether it’s coverage, the leverage to play with. How many yards off — whether you’re supposed to press a guy or play three to six yards off. Little things that were mistakes and again, the attention-to-detail type things. I still think we’re playing fast. I like the athletes that we have on the field. I’m just a little disappointed with the execution and the lack of finish.

Is last season always kind of lingering in your head, and that makes you concerned about lack of intensity, or is 2016 dead to you?

It’s dead to me. Don’t get me wrong, I think you use every year, whether it was 2015 or 2016, or whatever it may have been, for learning purposes. How do you grow? How do you self-evaluate and grow and get better in this business? That’s looking back at the things you did well and can improve upon or the things, conversely, that you didn’t do so well. I think the one thing that we have going for us right now is we have a tremendous group of leaders in our locker room. I think it’s one of those games, where again, we went in with the wrong mindset to this preseason game and treated like it was preseason. I would expect that to change this week and I’m sure Coach is going to share that message with the team this morning.

Do you look at Tyrann Mathieu and feel that the “The Badger” is back?

No. I would say he’s making plays again, which is great. I thought he missed a few tackles, so that’s an area he needs to improve upon. It’s not from a lack of competitiveness or toughness, but there were times in the alley that he didn’t come to balance and he didn’t wrap up and finish, and that can’t happen. The leaky yards after contact — whether it was Ty, there was a number of guys on our defense that if the first guy tackled the player, I’m not sure what the total yardage amount was, but it was way too high.

Is there truly, in your mind, a battle for the backup quarterback spot?

I don’t know if I look at it that way. I look at it — because I’ve known Drew and I know what Drew can do — for me, it’s a process of getting to know Blaine. I did scout him coming out (of college). I did spend time with him as a scout when he was at Missouri. I’ve watched him throughout his career and I’ve seen the way he’s played the game at the pro level. So what I’m doing is focusing on him and the areas that he’s improving. Not only how he’s improving within the system, but the things that our coaching staff — that Byron (Leftwich) and Tom Moore and Bruce are doing with him on a daily basis to correct some of the fundamental flaws, to correct some of the schematic things that were giving him problems. That little part of it, to me, is what is so exciting because it was a zero-risk type of situation when I signed him. But at the same time, he has shown the skill set and has done enough nice things to get excited about the fact that there is potential there. He does some nice things in the system, so more than anything, his ability to sit back in the pocket, the poise and the presence that he has shown are the things that I think have been corrected. I’ve always known he’s had arm talent. He can make some of those deep outs and drive the ball into tight windows. It’s the poise and the presence in the pocket, to me, is what it takes for a guy to be able to make the next step in this league.

Is he competing with special teams guys or a sixth wide receiver, things like that, for a spot on this roster?

Yeah, at this point you’d be hard-pressed to not say when you watch Blaine the way he’s played this preseason, he could potentially be competing for some other team’s starting position. Again, that’s just my opinion. He has played well. He’s played within the system, he’s made big throws, he’s been able to show people how his athleticism and his feet can get him out of trouble in the pocket, because he really does have good wheels. I think at the combine in Indianapolis when he came out, I think he ran a 4.57. For a big kid like him who can run like that and have that type of arm strength, again, the daily work with the mental stuff, the processing, the decision-making, if that continues to improve, then obviously he’s somebody we’re going to be excited about moving forward.

Speaking of improving, tell us about what you saw from Brandon Williams on tape.

He’s getting quite a bit better. And it’s the fact — and we’ve talked about his over and over — he has not played much defensive back in his career. He’s always been a running back. He came here and was, quite frankly, in over his head. He had all the skills and tools — the size, the length, the athleticism, the foot speed, the toughness was there. It was understanding concepts — playing off, understanding how to play against bunch coverages, spacing, leverage — all of those that stuff was new to him. So if he doesn’t just press, now it’s a whole new world to him. Those are the little things that Kevin Ross and James Bettcher and those guys are working with him on. Pat (Peterson) has been a great mentor for him. And more than anything, Brandon has continued to grow up and be a pro off the field. He’s watching more tape, understanding what they’re trying to do from a route-combination standpoint. So, just his toughness, his preparation, everything has continued to improve. He’s headed in the right direction, I believe, and he’s working his butt off on special teams and playing physical in that area as well.

Is Anquan Boldin a Hall-of-Famer or not?

That’s a good question because he was a Cardinal while I was here — I was part of that selection. I would say yes because, if anything, I love our guys, so I’m going to try and promote them. It’s no different from Adrian Wilson, who I think is a hands-down Hall-of-Famer. Look at his numbers. Guys like Adrian, Anquan, Larry Fitzgerald, Kurt Warner helped change the fate of this organization, along with Michael Bidwill getting the stadium built and the decisions he’s made. So many good things have pointed this organization in the right direction — not just the play on the field, but the things that these young men have done off the field to change the culture is, to me, something that should be added to the Hall of Fame decisions.

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