Cardinals see versatility in draft additions to defensive line

Apr 28, 2020, 6:30 PM

(Getty Images)...

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The focus of the Arizona Cardinals’ draft, especially on the defensive side of the ball, was put on the versatile Isaiah Simmons from Clemson. The versatility, though, may not end there.

Arizona had two fourth-round picks and used them both on defensive tackles, getting Leki Fotu out of Utah 114th overall and Rashard Lawrence from LSU at 131st overall. That will bolster a defensive line that added Jordan Phillips this offseason to go along with nose tackle Corey Peters.

Keim spoke highly of the versatility of both Fotu and Lawrence when he joined SiriusXM NFL Radio’s Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan.

“I think there’s a little more versatility there,” Keim said of Fotu. “I thought I saw a little bit of [Buccaneers DT] Vita Vea in him when I was looking at him. Bruce Arians called me and said the same thing right after we picked him and said he loved him, and thought there were some similarities as well.

“But I think the one thing that takes this guy out of the conventional thinking of your traditional nose is he’s got the quickness to get off the edges. He’s got some range to laterally close and chase the ball. So I think this guy’s got a little more to him and I think there’s even more upside to develop.”

Fotu had 30 games played in college, and last year as a senior had 25 tackles, 6.5 for loss, in only nine games. In 10 games his junior year, Fotu made 34 tackles, seven for loss, to go along with 3.5 sacks. He was an All-American rugby player in high school, and has three brothers who have played college football. Anthony Fotu, one of his brothers, played at Arizona.

“I think when you look at Leki’s size, everyone assumes that he’s a run-stopper,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Tuesday. “But the scheme they played at Utah, he was really coached to keep the linebackers clean. So he’s in more of a square stance, he’s more catching blocks, he’s just eating gaps. But when you watch this guy move and run, I think once you put him into an attack stance and allow him to go vertical and to be disruptive, he’s going to be a pretty good pass-rusher as far as pushing the pocket.

“This guy, he’s going to play across the board for us — nose, three technique and the four and the five for us. When we watched his tape, it was really good football as far as the movement for a big guy, and how hard he played, too. It’s hard to find big guys with those kind of motors that play that way every snap.”

Then there’s Lawrence, who played 12 games last year for LSU and had 28 tackles with 2.5 sacks. His big year was in 2018, when he had 54 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and four sacks. In the National Championship Game against Clemson, Lawrence had three tackles, one for a loss.

“[LSU] Coach [Ed Orgeron]’s the one who called me personally about Lawrence,” Joseph said. “We were tracking him for the whole draft. He was one of Coach Orgeron’s favorite players as a team leader, as a worker, as a technician. And Coach O coaches D-Line for a living. So he knows what it looks like.”

Joseph’s brother Mickey is the wide receivers coach at LSU. Keim said that, along with other relationships, helped the Cardinals get strong intel on Lawrence.

“I think the one thing you take away is he’s just a good football player, and more than anything he’s got that alpha male mentality, he’s a leader, he’s a grown man and a true pro,” Keim said on SiriusXM.

“So to be able to add two defensive linemen, one with size and tremendous upside and quickness and then another one who can play at a number of spots as well, I think he can play the zero, the three, the five, I think he can bounce around a little bit for you, and then what he brings to our locker room in terms of the intangibles, was really exciting to me.”

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