The Arizona Cardinals opened their 2016 preseason schedule Friday night at University of Phoenix Stadium, losing to the Oakland Raiders, 31-10.
While the result wasn’t the desired one for the Cardinals, there were plenty of positives in the contest.
As he will every Monday throughout the season, general manager Steve Keim joined Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, and took a look back at the Raiders game and a look ahead at Arizona’s upcoming joint practices and preseason game in San Diego against the Chargers.
How do you feel after you watched the tape from Friday?
“It was good. There were certainly some good things that I saw. But like any preseason game, there were some sloppy play and certainly some things that our coaches thought were correctable — especially for the young players out there, whether it was on the fundamental side or the technique side. But a lot of good, correctable teaching things that we saw and I think there’s no question that each week, a lot of these guys will get better and better.”
How does the injury report look following the game?
“I’d say that was probably the best news that we could have had is that we came out relatively healthy. A few bumps and bruises, but no major issues and hopefully that’s the way we get through the rest of the preseason.”
Where are you on the spectrum of trying to win a Super Bowl this year in relation to being patient and trying to develop players at the same time?
“I think you have to be patient. I mean, you have certain expectations of a lot of your starters but there are always young guys that you know have a growth period, that are going to go through some bumps along the way. But that’s the only way guys get better — to get out there and play full speed against different competition. So you have to be patient, so the first preseason game is certainly not the time to overreact.”
How did Brandon Williams perform in his first NFL game Friday?
“I don’t think it could have been a better night for him because of several things. Number one, he was able to go into the film room the next morning with Kevin Ross, his position coach, and see a lot of things he did well. Then, he was able to go in there and see some things he didn’t do so well, which again, we expected. There’s no doubt, he’s going to have some issues, more so, technically more than anything. When you talk about guys like him and D.J. (Humphries), our right tackle, they’re both young players, and the thing that’s positive is that these guys have a unique talent level that is better than the majority of the National Football League when you look at their size, their natural physical tools, their athleticism. Yet at the same time, they both have to improve their technique. The good news is they’re both playing with urgency, they’re both playing with competitiveness, but technically, both guys have to improve. Like I said before, the only way they’re going to get better is to get out there and get live game reps. I think both of them are going to be just fine in the end.”
So does that mean you’re scouring the waiver wire looking for players in the immediate future because these guys are so young?
“There’s nobody on the waiver wire that has these guys’ skill set. Unless you guys can tell me somebody I can find out there — I mean we’re always looking at the waiver wire to try and improve this team and we’re going to continue to be aggressive and proactive, but the problem is, when you take 90 and times it by 32, you guys tell me who’s out there and when you look at who’s out there, why are they out there?”
Is D.J. Humphries a plus right now in the run game? Is he an upgrade over what you had last year at that position?
“There’s no doubt, because D.J. has one thing he can do naturally that the other guys couldn’t do, and that’s roll his hips and finish in the run game. He naturally has a tremendous amount of explosiveness in his hips, so when he rolls his hips, he can create movement in the run game. Again, he plays physical and aggressive. Now, that can be a detriment to him at times because he can get top-heavy and he gets a little unsound because he gets too hyped up. When he’s got to thing about the little things, whether it’s the shade — if a guy is a tight shade, there’s no reason to over-set or take a wider step. There’s the little things that he needs to correct and learn through playing. Again, Larry Zierlein does a great job with him — he’s made great strides since last season. Yet at the same time, every day D.J.’s got to get out there and battle and continue to work on the little things — you know, to be able to play a little more patient in the passing game. Going up against one of the top pass rushers in the NFL was a great litmus test for him to see where he is and to see where he can improve.”
What was the second-best positive you saw Friday?
“I think there were some guys that have made strides that maybe have been injured in the past or that we didn’t have a great feel for. I thought Troy Niklas played his best football as a Cardinal so far, which as a second-round pick, we’ve been waiting on him. That’s a perfect example of a guy who has taken some time — whether it’s injuries or technique — but Troy has put some things on tape that have gotten us excited. He has the ability physically to be a complete tight end, but he has not lived up to expectations yet. We think he can be a player, and that’s certainly on Troy.
I think Andre Ellington is finally healthy and is running on two feet. The last couple years, he’s had some lower-leg injuries and some injuries to his feet. Andre, to me, is stronger and is running more balanced and explosive than he ever has. To be able to get him back and healthy is a huge plus because of some of the things we can do schematically, whether it’s go in a two-back situation and create some mismatches in the passing game with him and David Johnson — that’s going to put a tremendous amount of stress on some defenses.
I thought Alex Okafor played good football the other night coming off his injury and the disappointing end to last season. One of the young guys that caught my eye, played good and has made big improvements early on is Cole Toner, the young kid we drafted from Harvard this past year. He is a guy who doesn’t always look pretty in terms of technique and his play on the field, but he’s so effective. He’s smart and he understands leverage and angles and he really played physical the other night, so I was excited to see how well he played.”
What do you hope to get accomplished in San Diego from an evaluator’s perspective?
“I think it’s to understand where we’re at talent-wise compared to the Chargers. I reached out to (San Diego GM) Tom Telesco last night and he and I will get together before the practices start and talk about both of our rosters and see where our deficiencies are in hopes you can talk about areas where you can help each other improve. That will be good for all of us. It will also be good for our scouting staff to be able to go there and evaluate another team and to somewhat look at the big picture and to understand how we can improve and where we need to get better with our roster.”
Would you like to try to do this more often — schedule more teams to practice with?
“There’s no doubt. We talked about it yesterday, whether it’s somewhere else or to bring somebody here. Any time we can create more competition and to do it where camp isn’t so monotonous, where you have another team come in and you raise the level of urgency and competitiveness. Where our players have a chance to hit somebody else in a different-colored jersey, I think is extremely positive.”
What do you want to see in the game against the Chargers Friday?
“Just to play smarter football. I think the other night, we made a lot of mistakes mentally. I think aside from the young guys growing and continuing to grow with technique and development, I was disappointed with our special teams, our cover units. Some of the things that we did from a schematic standpoint. Again, young guys are making mental mistakes and blowing coverages and that sort of thing, that part of it is disappointing and that has to improve. I think this is the perfect time to get the rust out, when you have preseason games. Our coaches do a fantastic job of making the corrections and teaching these young guys on how they have to improve. That’s also what’s great about having a veteran team in some areas, where you have guys like Carson and Larry and our group, is where they can talk to the young players and tell them what the expectations are.
And quite frankly, some of the top players that we have that are on the PUP list or guys that are going to be huge contributors this year — having the chance to get those guys back.”