Keim Time: Cardinals GM impressed by Budda Baker, Blaine Gabbert
One down, four to go.
The Arizona Cardinals kicked off the 2017 NFL preseason last Thursday night with a 20-18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.
While there were plenty of positives from the first outing, there were negatives, too. Most notably, the loss of rookie T.J. Logan to a wrist injury that will sideline him for around three months.
General manager Steve Keim joins Doug and Wolf on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station every Monday morning during the season to review what’s happened and to look ahead to what’s next for the Cardinals as they get ready for home preseason opener Saturday against the Oakland Raiders.
It’s Keim Time.
Do you like what you see from your roster so far?
Yeah, there are some kids who have stepped up and are playing well, which is encouraging. Any point at this time in training camp when you have some young players who are stepping up — and more than anything, we know those guys’ heads are swimming from the playbook, whether it’s Budda Baker or Haason Reddick or Chad Williams — those guys are playing hard, they’re playing physical, they’re playing extremely well. Rodney Gunter is coming on. We all know that Robert Nkemdiche continues to play at a high level. The biggest thing for him is we need to see it on a day-in, day-out basis. There’s no doubt, thought, that if he continues to play like he has so far in training camp, he is going to be a very good player for us this season.
What had T.J. Logan showed you and what is your next step in getting him back sometime this season?
I feel like I jinxed us, because about halfway through the game I looked at Michael Bidwill and told him we finally have our punt and kick returner, because the things that he showed — his fearless approach to catching the football in traffic, his foot speed, his acceleration, the burst that you saw — gave me the feeling that he could be very, very explosive in the return game. There is no doubt that he’s got all the skills to do that. And not only that, I think there were some things he did in the run game, too. For being a smaller back, he stuck his face up in there, he created movement in the run game, he was physical, he got north and south extremely quick as a runner, which is what you look for. And he’s a great kid. So to find out about the injury was disheartening, yet at the same time, I know what kind of kid he is and the worker he is, so there may be an opportunity at some point in the season to get him back.
What is the likelihood of that happening?
At first, I feared we would lose him for the season, but it’s hard to forecast injuries and how they heal and all those little things. I think there’s a chance potentially to get that thing to scar down and heal and get him back at some point in the season. Whether we do or don’t will be determined based on some of the other injuries we incur — hopefully we don’t have many. But this year in the NFL, we are allowed to bring back two players for the first time. It’s the (injured reserve) to return and it’s two players instead of one and you don’t have to determine or identify those players until the week before you bring them back. It is beneficial to the clubs. I think it’s an improvement to the rules, and he’s a guy that’ll be a candidate for that.
After you watched the film from the Dallas game, who else were you impressed with?
Budda Baker. He continues to play at a high level. I think the little things — the film study, the playbook and all that, is like you anticipated — things that’s he’s going to have to continue to grow and continue to improve upon, but when you just watch the kid’s foot speed and explosiveness, his violence as a tackler, he has it all when it comes to the physical traits that you look for. When you’re out at practice that last couple of days, you see #36 (Baker) and #32 (Tyrann Mathieu) all over the field making plays. That is extremely encouraging. Robert Nkemdiche played well. I thought Olsen Pierre played extremely well. I thought Blaine Gabbert played good football. The one thing about Blaine that was exciting for me was you watch the tape in Jacksonville or San Francisco, where he had been prior, and he came off those initial reads and the first thing he would look to do is run because he does have the skills to beat you with his feet if necessary. I was really impressed by his pocket presence, the poise under pressure. He’s done a nice job and I credit (Bruce Arians) and Tom Moore and Byron Leftwich for the job that they’ve done with him so far in this camp, because he really looks like he has a good grasp and understanding of this offense.
Do you officially have a quarterback battle for the backup job?
I think it’s too early to even get into that conversation, but (Drew Stanton) has looked good in practice. We’ll see a little bit more this week because I know those guys will play. The thing I’m excited about is when you take a chance on a player and you really don’t have expectations, but you feel like the risk to the reward is certainly worth it, Blaine, to me, is a guy who has great skill. I think we saw it the other night. His arm talent, he’s got great feet and mobility. It’s just one of those things where I think he needs to stay in the same system and he’s got to be coached by the same people and he’s got to get the concepts down of the offense, and I think he’s got a chance.
What is the nuance of the new cutdown rule which mandates only one cut from 90 players to 53? How does it change the way a GM operates?
I’m a little torn by the rule because there’s part of me that actually likes it because we can stick with 90 all the way through the final cuts. It gives you bodies to practice with, it allows you to save players from an injury standpoint. But, at the same time, one of the things I love to do is to turn the back end of this roster. By churning the back end of the roster, I’m limited in the number of players that are available. When you cut to 75, now all of a sudden, there’s x-amount of players available and you can continue, through your pro department, to study those guys and have grades on every one of them and we can determine if we want to claim a player or sign a player based on their background, and now you don’t have the ability to do that. So now, you have to have a game plan on final cuts. Are all teams going to be at 90 or are some teams going to go to 80 or 85 just to minimize the roster a little bit? But either way, that weekend, we may not sleep for about two or three days because we’ll be in here grading players, looking at the cut list and trying to determine if there are any players we can claim that are going to help our football club.
Does that make it easier to hide a player, though?
Sure, anytime you have an opportunity to minimize that window. Now, all of a sudden, instead of exposing a player where other teams have a chance to take a long look at them, it’s simple math. Now, you’re minimizing that window and you’re cutting thousands of players in a 24-hour span and you’ve got to be prepared to make quick decisions. That’s the biggest difference and it’s a challenge. But we’ll be prepared for it. Our pro department with Terry McDonough and Quentin Harris and all those guys, Adrian Wilson, they do a phenomenal job and every time, we’re prepared to bring in a player off our ‘ready list’ or off the street, those guys, to me, have been A-plus.
In the three practices this week before the Raiders game, what specifically are you looking for?
There’s always a few guys that, individually, you want to see more from, but I think more than anything, because the starters didn’t play last week, I’d like to see them come out swinging like the backups did this last week, because I felt like we started fast in Canton. And the execution for the first preseason game, I thought, was exceptional. I thought we were crisp. Again, I thought Blaine made great decisions, I thought he was accurate. You’d like to see that from the starters, to see guys that have practiced limited or have sat out of the first preseason game, to see them come out and play with that kind of enthusiasm and urgency. And again, at the end of the day, the execution is the biggest thing. Is everyone in rhythm? Carson and the receivers, are they on target? The offensive line, whether its games or stunts, are we picking those things up? Because those are the little things that are hard to replicate in practice.