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Steve Keim Time: Larry Fitzgerald, Chris Johnson get better with age

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 47-7 win against the San Francisco 49ers:

How cool was that to be on the field saluting someone that you spent so much of your life getting to know and being close to, and then at one point being the boss to Adrian Wilson?

It’s really just a surreal feeling. It was emotional, I’ve got to be honest with you. But just to see his face and see the smile that he had was extremely rewarding.

To see the roster go out and perform the way it did yesterday, where does your mind go? What are you most proud of?

Just a tip of the hat probably to our scouting department. Led by Terry McDonough, our VP of player personnel, these guys have done a phenomenal job. When you look at week in and week out, the contributions that we get from guys from Pittsburgh State, UC Irvine, Northern Iowa, Presbyterian, Delaware State. It says a lot about the people that work in this building and guys like Terry McDonough, Dru Grigson our director of college scouting, Quentin Harris our pro director, these guys from top to bottom are as good as any in the league and it shows up on the field.

What went into the thought process that Bobby Massie was ready to be your starting right tackle?

I think Bruce said it best. He’s a little more polished as a pass protector. But we thought Bobby played pretty good yesterday. He got after people and finished some blocks. Not only did Bobby play well, we thought that Jonathan Cooper played excellent and really the one guy who’s really playing well now is Jermaine Gresham.  Setting the edge in the run game and some of the things he can do compared to the tight ends we’ve had in the past has really, really made some major improvements for us as far as the run game goes.

To see the Cardinals go out and dominate the line of scrimmage the way that they did yesterday, that to me is my number one takeaway. Would you agree with that after watching the film?

Yeah that’d be correct. They’ve got some players over there that are strong, physical defenders. That was the goal all along when we first took over this thing is to improve up front, both offensive line wise and defensive line. It was really fun to see some of our defenders – Frostee Rucker – moving the line of scrimmage. Rodney Gunter was dominant at times. To see some of these guys step up and play well was again, very rewarding.

You’re getting a lot of national attention. How do you make sure nobody reads their press clippings in the practice facility?

Bruce does a great job of that. He made sure that everybody knew they still won a bleep after the game. But we were in the same situation last year, we had the best record in the NFL at one point and these players had a first-hand experience of how the thing can fall apart with the injuries that we incurred and that sort of thing. This is a focused team. There are a lot of mature leaders down there in that locker room led by Carson and Larry and all those guys. I think they’ll be able to maintain a level of focus.

You just mentioned his name – Larry. Twenty targets in the last two games, 17 receptions, 246 yards and five touchdowns. Steve, what is going on?

It’s amazing. My man, Larry and Carson for that matter, Chris Johnson – these guys are like fine wine, they just get better with age. It’s been really, really fun to see these guys play at such a high level. With Larry playing inside and outside, it just gave him a better understanding of the game. I think he’d be the first to tell you that that has really helped him understanding defenses and reading coverages. Him and Carson – it’s been fun to watch – those guys are on the same page.

What about John Brown? I think John Brown has really helped Larry by loosening up that secondary. Wouldn’t you agree?

No doubt. That’s one of the things we tried to improve as well both defensively and offensively, is just our team speed. It can do so many things for you, just loosening up defenses. On defense having that kind of speed, you saw all the points we put on the board with our corners jumping routes and that sort of thing. It’s been a lot of fun to see. We’ve just got to keep the train moving in the right direction.

There were some general managers and some owners grumbling when Larry Fitzgerald signed his contract extension, thinking that you were paying him what he was worth and not what he is worth today. Would you like to talk to any of those guys?

I just think internally you’ve got to continue to trust in yourself and what you believe. I always felt like Larry was a huge part of what we’re trying to do here. You just can’t get consumed in what everybody else thinks. Same thing with when we made the trade for Carson Palmer. Some people thought he was done and used up and I think he’s proving people wrong.  You’ve just got to live in your world and continue to stay focused and I think good things will come.

Your wife Kim does not high-five you when you walk in the door because you picked up Carson Palmer for basically a sixth-round pick, actually nothing. What about Chris Johnson? Does she high-five you on that?

No, not at all. As a matter of fact they’re in North Carolina right now on fall break so I didn’t even have to change diapers last night.

(Laughs)

Give us an injury update, how did you come out of that game?

Really clean. One of the better games in the three years I’ve been here as a GM. A few bumps and bruises, nothing major. Hopefully we’ll get Andre (Ellington) and Mike Iupati back this week and hopefully the good fortune with the injuries continues.

As a former offensive lineman, you have to love what the big offensive line did in the fourth quarter by lining up and going on a 13-play drive, a 79-yard drive that ended in a touchdown, 7:42 off the clock that included 10 runs right there. Did you give those guys a game ball?

No doubt. That’s the thing as a former offensive lineman that you love. That’s how really you can break another team’s will. When you get in there and line up foot to foot and play smash mouth football.

How does a general manager watch football?

One game at a time. At the same time you have to keep your eye on the future. Whether it’s with contracts or the roster makeup and that’s exactly why in preseason camp you have to look ahead and think about different things which is why we signed Chris Johnson. We love Andre Ellington, how dynamic he is as a runner, yet at the same time he’s battled some injuries in the past so to watch Chris Johnson on tape and see that he still has some juice left, you have to try to look ahead a little bit to help your roster.

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