The Arizona Cardinals did a lot of revamping in the offseason.
Following a disappointing 5-11 campaign in 2012, new general manager Steve Keim overhauled the roster to a degree few NFL teams have ever seen. Of the 90 players in camp with the Cardinals, 51 of them are brand new to the organization.
One of the main focuses for Keim and the Arizona front office was strengthening the offensive line, which was one of the worst in the league last season.
Keim invested two draft picks in the line, including a first-rounder on North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper. Free agent veterans Eric Winston and Chilo Rachal were also brought in to fortify the effort up front.
But one free agent signing that flew under the radar is making his mark in this year’s camp.
Paul Fanaika, a former Arizona State Sun Devil, started at right guard in Arizona’s preseason opener against the Green Bay Packers Friday, and has been one of the biggest eye-openers this preseason, according to Keim.
“He continues to be one of the surprises in camp,” Keim told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 620 Monday morning. “When you look at Paul, we saw flashes throughout the spring after we signed him. He’s done a nice job here in camp.
“Once the lights came on, that was going to be the real question. You know, was it going to be too big for him? Paul really answered the test Friday night, he did a nice job for us.”
Fanaika, who played for the Sun Devils from 2005 to 2008, was originally a seventh-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2009, but has floated around the league ever since with stops in Washington, Cleveland and Seattle. After the Seahawks cut him in training camp last season, the 6-foot-5, 327-pounder was out of football.
Keim believes that being away from the game has made the former tackle a hungrier football player.
“One of the things that has helped him is the move inside (to guard),” Keim said. “He’s played right tackle quite a bit in the past and had some issues out on the edge, whether it was foot speed or change of direction.
“And then, quite frankly, you take a guy’s livelihood away from him and he knows that this may be his last opportunity to shine, and he’s taking full advantage of it.”