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Steve Keim Time: Positional flexibility a big plus for Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim watches the offense and defense during an NFL football training camp practice Monday, Aug. 3, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
LISTEN: Steve Keim, 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 30-23 preseason win against the Oakland Raiders:

It’s gotta be the most difficult thing, to look a kid in the eye and tell him his NFL dream is over, at least temporarily. I know it’s been a couple of days here, but tell us, after the dust has settled, talk about your 53-man roster and what was the most difficult cut?

Well, I don’t know if there was any one difficult cut. I think you nailed it on the head — when you’re constructing a roster, it’s exciting and it’s a fun process to go through, although cutting to 75 and to 53 are probably the two toughest days of the year, because you are taking a young man’s dream away, at least for the time being. It’s emotional, because you do become invested in what these guys have done for you, you have an emotional attachment to most of them, and it’s just a tough time. We had to make some tough decisions, and that’s a good sign because it shows that you’re improving your roster when you have to cut some players who you know not only can play in the National Football League, but can play at a fairly productive level.

Take us inside those conversations. I’m assuming every one of them is different, but is it a ton of question-and-answer with the player? Does a player just want to get out of there immediately and they’re angry? How does the process happen?

All are different. Some of the guys are emotional. Some are extremely appreciative for the opportunity — most are appreciative for the opportunity, yet disappointed, which you expect them to be. Generally, there’s not a ton of talk. I do thank them for everything they’ve done for us. And in many cases, you want them to understand that the door is not always closed. They’re could be injuries down the line where you bring back a few of these players because of their knowledge of our scheme and their experience here. You always want them to know you appreciated their time and effort and make sure they stay healthy and stay in shape because there could be an opportunity down the road.

Is this roster still in a state of flux going into New Orleans, or do you believe this is going to be your 53?

It’s always in flux. The one thing I think you do when you’re building a roster of 53 is maintain some type of flexibility, particularly from 49 to 53, which is why a lot of times you want those players to be the non-vested players — the players that you’re not guaranteeing yearly contracts. Again, you maintain the flexibility and rotate players on and off your roster.

Was there a moment where you decided you didn’t have a third quarterback on the roster, or was it more the opportunity of Matt Barkley presented itself and that beat out the two guys you had?

I think it’s a combination of different scenarios. The one thing about evaluating quarterbacks is — and again, it’s always a learning process — when you look at a quarterback and you’re evaluating that player, what are the traits you’re looking for? The first thing you don’t say is ‘arm strength’ or ‘foot speed or mobility.’ To me, the first thing you want is mental toughness. The second is the ability to process and learn. Those are the things that excited us about Matt Barkley. When he came out of college, we spent quite a bit of time with him, we liked him coming out. We know that he is a football junkie and the mental part of the game is not too fast for him. So now, we bring him in and we give him an opportunity, there’s really not a lot of risk involved, and we see what he’s got physically. To me, that’s the way you have to approach that position because they are so hard to find. Sometimes you’ll see guys with one or the other. Sometimes they have they have the physical traits but they can’t do it mentally. Sometimes they’re smart guys who overachieve because they understand the game.

Tyrann Mathieu can play the nickel corner, and play it very well I might add. Is that the reason why you only kept three corners, or will you look for a fourth corner?

Always looking for a fourth corner, but Tyrann does give you that flexibility to be a little lighter at the corner position in terms of roster numbers. At the same time, we ended up bringing back Cariel Brooks to the practice squad, who had a nice camp for us. We also signed Leon McFadden and Robert Nelson — an Arizona State product who was with Cleveland — to the practice squad. We look at those three players as potential guys that could come up any individual week depending the kind of team that we’re playing and the type of injuries we’ve incurred.

When Bobby Massie comes off his two-game suspension, is it a certainty that an offensive lineman gets cut?

Not necessarily. That’s why you maintain that flexibility. Coach and I will sit down once Bobby is reinstated and we’ll go over the roster. At that point, we could have more injuries. It’s a fluid process and you never know how it’s going to play out. There are probably three of four guys that could be potential players that we could release when Bobby comes back. But at the same time, we don’t know the type of injuries we’re going to incur in the first two weeks, so that could change. The good news is, Earl Watford started the last preseason game and I thought, played very well at that position.

About the last preseason game, Chris Johnson and Sean Weatherspoon, your thoughts on their performances?

I thought they both played very well. It was nice to finally see, because here were two guys that are veterans that we were excited about what they brought to the table — not only on the field, but off the field. I think all of us were frustrated to some degree because of the injuries. We had a lot of soft tissue injuries this offseason. To be able to see both of those guys step in and do some of the things we saw on tape when we evaluated them was extremely gratifying. You never know until you see them do it, not only in your system but on your field and surrounded by your team, and both of them, I thought, stepped up and played extremely well. Both were passionate. The funny thing about both of them is they’ve played a lot of football in the NFL and neither of them wanted to come out in the fourth preseason game.

And they’re both ready to go Sunday against the Saints?


What do you expect against the Saints for Michael Floyd and Mike Iupati?

You know, we’ll talk to (head athletic trainer) Tom Reed at some point (Tuesday) morning. Yesterday was the players’ day off. And today, I’ll meet with Tom Reed mid-morning to find out where those players stand.

How do you feel about the lines of scrimmage on both sides of the ball?

Really excited about the defensive line, particularly with the depth and the ability to rotate players in and out, along with the positional flexibility. Guys can play the nose, can bounce to the three or the five, so we have a lot of flexibility defensively. And you can’t say enough good things about Rodney Gunter and Xavier Williams — a fourth-round pick and an undrafted free agent — who have both stepped up and answered the bell. And other guys, Josh Mauro, who I thought played extremely well in the preseason. Ed Stinson flashed. And you expect a lot of big things out of Calais Campbell, Frostee Rucker and Cory Redding as well. Again, I like the depth and the positional flexibility on the defensive side. Injuries took a toll on the offensive line. I don’t think there’s any question that there were some concerns in the preseason — not just with the offensive line, but with protection as a whole, with backs and receiving routes. Those sort of things complicate matters in our protection. I have a strong feeling that we’ll get these things ironed out. You’ll see this week, I think we’ll do a good job of protecing Carson Palmer and giving him a clean pocket.

Going into Sunday, who is the starting center for the Cardinals?

You’ll have to ask Coach (Arians) that. I’ve told you time and time again I don’t make those decisions. You’ll have to ask him (laughs).

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