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Keim Time: Cardinals GM says 53-man roster ‘fell into place’

LISTEN: Steve Keim, AZ Cardinals GM

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim joins Doug and Wolf every Monday morning following a game on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station.

This week, among other topics, Keim discussed the roster being cut down to 53 players and a pleasant surprise from training camp.

Let’s talk about the historic cut down to 53. Logistically, did it cause any problems for you guys?

No, it’s never a fun process to go through because you get so emotionally attached to players, whether they were free agents or draft picks, and you get to know these young men. All they are trying to do is live out a dream. To tell them that their dream has come to an end, at least with the Arizona Cardinals, is certainly not something that I or Coach (Bruce Arians) looks forward to. But we’re excited about the final 53. We had an opportunity to sign Andy Lee the punter to bring some stability to that position and someone that we’re excited about. So were looking at who the next guy is. How about the Diamondbacks? 11 straight wins. Trying to do something that J.D. Martinez did, four home runs, that is amazing. Anyway, really excited about the final 53 and we will continue to make some moves in the near future.

The toughest decision you had to make in the past 48 hours was?

Probably the practice squad because the final 53 fell into place and the practice squad, people look at that differently. You have the ability to sign 10 guys to your practice squad, and some guys view it as a chance to give a better look for your football team. For me, it’s more of a developmental roster. It’s guys that you would hope have the potential to roster on the 53. Or if an injury occurs, you have the ability to bring them up and they can contribute right away.

What about Andy Lee, in regards to the two-year contract. Is that something you wanted to do, even when he was with the Carolina Panthers suspecting he would be released?

Andy was a guy that we had our eye on all along. The one thing that coming out of last season that Coach, myself and Michael (Bidwill) talked about that there was no secret was to improve our special teams. I think one of our biggest offseason signings was (kicker) Phil Dawson, who not only has been phenomenal on the field but has been a leader in our locker room. As you saw yesterday, he was named one of our captains. Andy was a guy, we have obviously followed his career, who wasn’t available this spring. So when we had the chance to sign him after he was released by the Carolina Panthers, it was a great get for us in my opinion. The fact that he already had the kind of rapport he did with Phil Dawson, because you know the whole operation with the holding is obviously very important, and the fact that he had held for Dawson before was big time. Plus, not many people may know that he and Larry Fitzgerald were very close friends at the University of Pittsburgh.

A lot of people had Cap Capi on the roster. A lot of people had Cole Toner on the roster. A lot of people had Chris Johnson on the roster. What was it about those three that separated them from the guys you had on the roster anyway?

I don’t want to get into each particular player. But the one thing I will say is that when you’re building a roster, there is so much that goes into it. It could be your role on game day. There are so many different factors that people don’t see. The mental side of the game, the ability to pick up the assignments, how many mental errors do you have, can you line up in the right gap, work ethic, the intangibles, the things you bring to the table in the locker room. So there is so many factors that go into it that fans and the media may not see that were privy to that type of information that is so important in building a final 53.

You have addressed the corner opposite of Patrick Peterson. It seems to me that it handled itself in training camp. Didn’t it? 

The emergence of Justin Bethel was big time for us because we always knew he had the skill set. But just the consistency, the ability to see things from an anticipation standpoint, whether it’s playing off or reading quarterbacks’ eyes, being able to turn and find the football in coverage — those are the things that Justin needed to work on and he has taken a lot of ownership in it this offseason. He’s worked extremely hard and its paid off. Signing Tramon Williams is a solid signing. I think he is a guy that is going to contribute. (He) really understands route combinations. He is just one of those guys that is a real pro. (He) comes to work everyday and understands the game at a high level. Then Brandon Williams who early on in camp there was some inconsistency, and he has continued to improve and get better. So we went from having a position where you knew Pat was a real player and opposite of Pat, who was going to emerge. Now all of the sudden there are three guys we feel really good about. So when you’re four-deep at that position, it is certainly an area where there is not much concern moving forward.

Every general manager is worried about something going into week one of the season. What are you most worried about?

Living up to expectations. I am extremely excited about this football team and from top to bottom, we have been given all the resources. Michael Bidwell has given us the resources to win here and we feel like we have put together a very good roster. We have a great locker room and good leaders. Now it is time to play football and win. There are high expectations around the Valley, which is exciting. But we have to do our part. We have to play smart football, which is an area I think we have improved on in the offseason, with the football IQ part of it. Again, we have no excuses. We need to go out and play good football and certainly erase some of the feelings we had from last year.

Two weeks ago, there was this kid I was watching with the offensive line and his name was Daniel Munyer. It dawned on me that this guy has this incredible base, but I never considered he would make the team. Talk a little bit about Daniel Munyer and why you guys kept him on the team. 

We were talking about, I think a couple of weeks ago, Kareem Martin in my opinion has been the most improved player — Daniel Munyer may have been the most pleasant surprise. He is a natural knee bender, he’s got great movement, does a nice job of climbing to the second level, sustaining blocks and space and like you said Wolf, he’s got a great base, plays physical at the point of attack. He’s earned it. He’s done a great job. He’s one of those types of players that came into the league on practice squads and has just gotten better and better and done everything right. He’s someone we feel like we can count on in terms of depth. If you have an injury, you can plug him in and he can play and you can certainly win with him.

Out of all the changes in the CBA, for you what has been one that has been most challenging to overcome?

You draft players and you forget that there is still, in some regards, a developmental phase. It comes down to technique and fundamentals. Those things are hard to improve, if you are not playing real football. In the offseason if you have a limited number of practices, you have a limited number of times you can spend with these players. So how do you grow and get better? That to me is a real concern moving forward that we have to address. These guys have a chance to come in and play more football, have more practice time and can get better at their craft. Especially when you think about particular positions, whether it’s the offensive line or quarterbacks, where colleges are running such different systems and these guys now all of the sudden have to get in a three-point stance, get under center and call a play in the huddle. They have a lot to improve upon and you can’t replicate it without being with coaches and having practice time. That is a real concern for me moving forward.

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