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Keim Time: Cardinals’ GM ‘pleased’ with overall effort against Falcons

LISTEN: Steve Keim, AZ Cardinals GM

Arizona Cardinals general manager joins Doug and Wolf every Monday morning following a game on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station.

This week, Keim discussed the team’s 24-14 preseason win over the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The win evened the Cardinals’ preseason record to 2-2 heading into the final tuneup tilt of the year, Thursday night in Denver against the Broncos.

After you watched the tape of the Atlanta game, what made you smile?

For the most part, I was really pleased with the overall performance. Especially, as we’ve talked about, when you put a lot of emphasis on the third, or in this case, the fourth preseason game. And to do it in what you’d think is a pretty hostile environment where a brand new stadium is built with a team coming off an NFC Championship — knowing the type of players that they have from a talent standpoint, and the way we played and executed, I was really pleased.

What did you see from John Brown?

Well, it’s pretty simple — the play-making ability. We all know what kind of player John Brown can be and the injuries have been an issue. But when John Brown is healthy, there’s no doubt that he’s a dynamic player who can create mismatches, especially in the vertical game, which is something we desperately need from him. Not only does John Brown’s big play ability help us just in terms of putting points on the board, but it opens other things up, whether it’s Larry underneath, whether it’s tight ends, it’s David in the run game or David’s ability to motion in the slot and create mismatches with linebackers and safeties. It does so many different things for you that defenses have to prepare for. John Brown is a very important part of this puzzle, so having John healthy and guys like Tyrann Mathieu — the biggest keys to those two players is they change field position.

Against Chicago, the lines struggled quite frankly. What did you see from both lines in this game?

Offensively, I thought we did a good job of protecting other than one or two times there was some leakage. But I thought we gave Carson and Drew, for the most part, very good pass protection and those guys, I thought, were in rhythm and on point. Defensively, with Robert (Nkemdiche) down and Olsen Pierre going out early, I had a little bit of concern in the run game early on where we got creased, and whether it was a guy just didn’t have gap control or a linebacker who didn’t come over the top and fill — those are things we need to continue to clean up. But those were my only concerns on defense because I thought we set the edge much better this week with Chandler (Jones) and Markus Golden. And I thought our secondary played exceptional.

What is your plan for roster cutdown with about 1,200 players about to hit the street this coming weekend? Is it any different than any other last Thursday of the preseason?

Yeah, it’s significantly different. When you think about the fact that there’s 1,184 players who aren’t going to be on NFL teams over a two or three-day period, it puts a lot of strain and pressure on your personnel department. Fortunately, Michael Bidwill has given me the resources to build, in my opinion, one of the best personnel departments in the National Football League and when you have guys like Mike Disner and Terry McDonough and Quentin Harris and Adrian Wilson — you know, to me, the best of the best which certainly make me look good. We’ll put a plan in place and the good news is Coach (Arians) and I spent a lot of time talking about our roster (Sunday) and to feel like you’ve got a core group of talent, whether there’s 51 or 48 really good players that you can count on, it does take a little bit of stress off you from the standpoint you don’t have to search the wire to build a team. You’re really just looking for one or two positions, potentially. The bottom line is those players that are free have to significantly upgrade your roster or you don’t want to make a change because if a guy isn’t good enough, you have to get him up-to-date on the schematics and playbook, so there are so many things that go into it. You have to be convinced that, from a talent standpoint, this player is a significant upgrade.

Going into Thursday night, how many jobs would you say are up for grabs?

I would say probably four or five, you know, where you could probably say there is a battle or where guys could emerge. A lot of that is on special teams and their ability to cover kicks and punts and those sorts of things. That’s what preseason is about. A lot of these young guys are continuing to grow and get better. Earlier on in training camp, I was a little down on Brandon Williams, and he has certainly rebounded. Going from the first week of camp, where I had some concerns and some doubts about the corner position opposite of Patrick Peterson, now all of a sudden, I feel like we have four solid corners, which is sigh of relief.

What do you need to see from Chris Johnson Thursday in order for him to make the team? How badly did he hurt himself with his performance in Atlanta?

I’m not going to critique Chris on the radio. The one thing I’ll say is he’s a pro’s pro. He gets it. And it’s not just his performance in one preseason game that’s going to make a difference. It’s a body of work that Coach and I will look at. We’ll determine the best 53, and more importantly, who’s going to be active on game day. That’s the toughest thing. When you have a better roster — Coach and I were looking (Sunday) at who’s going to be active on game day, and it was a lot tougher than we anticipated when looking at which guys are going to be down. You’d like to have them all available on Sunday.

I think the wide receivers have responded pretty well since Bruce Arians put them on notice. Are you seeing the same thing?

There’s no doubt that a good butt-chewing is good for all of us. Bruce let them have it and I think they’ve all responded. Not only have they responded on the field, but they’ve gotten out of the training room, which was something that needed to improve. A lot of those soft-tissue issues cleaned up real quick.

On defense, last week the talk was all about Josh Bynes. This week, there’s a lot of talk about Cap Capi. Where is the biggest competition going on in terms of making the 53-man roster?

I think punter is one of them. I think the fourth outside linebacker is certainly an area that we’re going to look at. Inside linebacker is another position that you want to continue to look at. Offensive line depth is an area, as well. Cap had a nice night, gave tremendous effort and was certainly disruptive. I won’t say he’s the biggest surprise, but there’s no player on our team that has worked harder this offseason than Kareem (Martin). Kareem Martin, in my opinion, is the most improved football player on our entire team, when you look at his body of work, how far he’s come. When we drafted him, he was a long, lanky athlete who had some speed and straight-line ability. But he has grown into his body, he’s spent tons of time in our weight room and when you do that, you become more confident as a player from a physicality standpoint. Kareem, I’m truly proud about the way that he’s worked because it shows the rest of the team that if you put in the time and the effort, you can get better.

The fact that the fullback is making a bit of a return to the NFL in 2017, that could be important for Elijhaa Penny’s chances, couldn’t it?

I think, in any business, it’s ‘the more you can do,’ right? He’s a big man, he’s got nifty feet, he does some good things in terms of run skills. He does have the ability to have positional flexibility and then, more than anything, there’s no doubt that we’ve looked to improve our core special teams and he’s a guy that Amos (Jones) and some of our coaches really like running down and covering kicks and those sort of things. Elijhaa’s certainly got a chance. He was on our practice squad last year and is another guy who has improved over time.

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