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Steve Keim Time: Pass protection needs to improve for Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) is sacked by San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

LISTEN: Steve Keim, Arizona Cardinals General Manager

Sometimes, it’s best to go straight to the man in charge.

And when it comes to the Arizona Cardinals’ roster, that man is Steve Keim.

Arizona’s general manager since January 2013, Keim has overseen a transformation that has led to 21 wins over two seasons. His deft touch with the draft and free agency has led to the team becoming a contender in the NFC.

Lucky for us, Keim happens to be a weekly guest on the Doug and Wolf Show, right here on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. And since what he has to say is important, we thought it would be a good idea to put his words into print, allowing you to read what the GM is thinking. So, without further ado, here’s this week’s edition, which follows Arizona’s 22-19 preseason loss to the San Diego Chargers:

How does the team look coming out of the San Diego game?

When you come out of a preseason game, I think one of the number goals and objectives is to stay healthy. After meeting with our doctors yesterday, I think we accomplished that. We came out relatively healthy two days ago. I think one of the biggest issues that we’ve talked about internally is cleaning up some mental mistakes and some technical issues. But the guys competed, but we had some young guys stand out and looked pretty good.

What are your biggest takeaways from Saturday night?

Weapons on offense. If we can protect Carson (Palmer), we have some guys who can not only create separation but can be explosive offensively. We have some guys on the perimeter that can not only take the top off the defense, but we have some backs that can do some different things schematically that can put pressure on defenses. I’m excited to see where we’re going offensively, but there is no question in my mind that there are some concerns that we have to protect up front. It’s one thing to get beat physically, but to blow assignments mentally is unacceptable.

How bad was it from a mental standpoint?

There were a few times offensive line-wise, we had a couple of gains we didn’t handle the right way. Whether it was offensive lineman not coming off of combination stuff or adjusting the right way. And then there were several times where we had backs that just blew assignments, which we have to get cleaned up. That’s what the preseason is for. But there were some guys that are veterans in there that have had experience and again, it’s unacceptable.

What are you seeing on film from the starting defense?

Those guys are playing fast, they’re playing physical. I think James Bettcher is doing an excellent job — he’s bringing a lot of pressure, which is fun to see. He’s putting a lot of pressure on offenses. I talked to Chargers head coach Mike McCoy after the game and he gave us a great compliment and told me how much he enjoyed seeing our defense live and that he felt it was a great litmus test for his offense, to see a defense like that early on in the process. It’s nice to see our defensive line and the kind of rotation that we have. It was unfortunate that we lost Corey Peters last week to injury, because he was playing so well. We had some young guys that stepped up. Rodney Gunter did a nice job, Xavier Williams continues to shine and impress and then we have a nice rotation where we continue to roll guys in and out and they can create pressure.

Was there ever a time in the last couple years where you doubted that Kevin Minter would have an effect because of just how good he looks right now?

It’s always different. You put a lot of pressure on yourself that every draft pick that comes in, you want to see him have early success. But that isn’t always the case and it’s no different for Alex Okafor. He came in and early on in the process, started slow and had an injury. Like Kevin, they battled some injuries and started slow, but they really have come full circle. That’s the one thing you have to keep in mind, whether it’s through the draft process or signing guys as free agents, guys don’t always just walk through the door or get through baggage claim and have tremendous success right away. Sometimes there are schematical issues they have to pick up. Sometimes, quite frankly, guys just have to mature. It’s unfortunate that it does take some time, but it’s nice to see the way Kevin has responded and the way he’s playing right now.

What have you seen from D.J. Humphries?

He’s the perfect example in the same category that I was just talking about. He’s a guy, that on one play, he looks exactly like the first-round pick that we selected. He’s got great feet. You don’t find too many offensive tackles with his feet and lateral quickness and his ability to slide and mirror in pass protection. Yet at the same time, he doesn’t do a great job of using his hand and he needs to get better using his punch. The bottom line is his consistency. His technique is up and down, and I know Coach Arians has been hard on him, and will continue to stay hard on him. We have great expectations for D.J. and we expect him to be a real pro. Sometimes you forget he’s 21-years-old and he was a third-year junior coming out of Florida. But at the end of the day, you get out there with those live shots and you get your first opportunity to play NFL football, and the game comes quick at you. He’s got to improve and he’s got to improve fast. He’s in a competition with Bradley Sowell, who aside from the one sack he gave up, played pretty good.

As the GM, do you talk to players individually about their performance?

Yes, absolutely. The one thing that I do is I respect our coaching staff from that standpoint. I’m not involved in the day-to-day teaching of technique or what some of the schematical issues are. Mine is more the 30,000-foot view of ‘hey, we drafted you here. Here are the expectations and I don’t see you living up to them. It’s got to improve, and if it doesn’t improve, you’re not going to like the consequences.’ This is a business where you have expectations and you expect certain things. If they don’t live up to them, you have to move on. D.J. Humphries is far from a situation where we’re going to move on, but you do have to let them know where they stand. I think that’s always important to let them know where they are. Sometimes, these players have tunnel-vision and they don’t understand the big picture. I’ll spend a lot of times talking to their agents, letting them know where the player stands as well so they can give the type of feedback the players need. Constructive criticism, for all of us — I don’t care if you’re a player or an employee, is productive for me. I think it’s important that Michael Bidwill lets me know occasionally where I stand.

David Johnson was impressive. What did you see?

Early on in the game, I think B.A. hit it best — there were a couple of runs where he was indecisive and danced too much. But as the game worn on, he decided to put his foot in the ground and get vertical and run north and south. I think you see why we liked him so much. You forget that this was his first live game action. As the game went on, you started to see some of the things that are really intriguing about David. He’s 6-foot-1. He’s 226 pounds. And for being a guy who’s an erect runner, he’s got outstanding natural knee bend and foot quickness. He’s got the ability to make lateral cuts for a big guy. Sometimes, he has a tendency to dance a little bit. He’s got to understand to use his size and strength. Finish runs and run behind your pads, because when he does, he falls forward and it’s four yards.

Logan Thomas and Phillip Sims have both looked good this preseason. Do you know who your third-string quarterback is yet?

No, not yet. I mean, it’s a battle. Both guys do some good things and both guys make some major mistakes. It’s going to come down to who plays with the most consistency at the end of the day, the guy that continues to grow and develop in this offense. The one thing that impressed me about Phillip was he looked really patient and poised in the pocket. He made some good decisions. When it was time to scramble and make plays with his feet, he can do that. He was exciting to watch this weekend, I thought he did an excellent job.

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