ARIZONA CARDINALS

Cardinals GM Steve Keim optimistic about CBs, roster before 2021 opener

Sep 10, 2021, 3:16 PM
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim joins the Doug & Wolf show (Arizona Sports/Matt La...
Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim joins the Doug & Wolf show (Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)
(Arizona Sports/Matt Layman)

Their nickelback is probably their most reliable outside cornerback.

Their starting inside linebackers have seven total starts between them.

The Arizona Cardinals’ offseason upgrades included 2011 Pro Bowlers who are probably past their prime. Their third-year head coach and play-caller, Kliff Kingsbury, saw his team’s efficiency fall from 13th in offensive DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) in 2019 to 19th last year despite the addition of a top wideout, DeAndre Hopkins.

You can find reasons to worry the Cardinals won’t get over the hump playing in the highly touted NFC West, but general manager Steve Keim only has room for optimism heading into a 2021 season opener against the Tennessee Titans.

Even after cornerback Malcolm Butler’s sudden exit just before the year was set to start. That might be the biggest worry emanating from the fanbase.

“I think it’s always a surprise when a player retires, but (I) have a lot of respect for Malcolm and his decision,” Keim told Arizona Sports’ Burns & Gambo on Friday.

“I feel good about a number of those guys in that room, starting with Byron Murphy, who is also in Year 3, and I think is a guy who’s ready to break out as one of the top corners in the league. He can play outside, he can play inside, he’s got a great feel for the game.”

Murphy very well could meet expectations after showing grittiness in two healthy seasons. But next to him is rookie fourth-round pick Marco Wilson and veteran Robert Alford, who hasn’t played an NFL game since 2018.

The latter received glowing reviews from Keim, which explains why Arizona has not moved mountains to shore up their cornerback depth chart upon Butler’s sudden decision to step away. He’s currently on the retired list.

“The one person that we’ve probably not talked about enough … is Marco Wilson,” Keim said. “A guy we traded up in the fourth round to grab him and maybe was sort of underappreciated in the evaluation process. He has looked fantastic in camp, in preseason games — practice every day he lines up against A.J. (Green) and Hop and (Christian) Kirk … and has answered every test so far.

“Those (young) guys are going to be challenged but for the most part, everything we’ve seen from the guy, his mental makeup, his physicality and his attention to detail is phenomenal.”

The Cardinals did maneuver to add depth upon Butler’s retirement.

They added veterans Rasul Douglas and Antonio Hamilton to the practice squad. Douglas could play as an outside corner, while Hamilton could contribute on special teams.

“Both of those guys have a chance and I would expect that throughout the season, we’ll see one or both of them at some point,” Keim said.

From a wider lens, Keim said the Cardinals are internally high on their offseason. They believe quarterback Kyler Murray will take the next step — Keim said he should be in the MVP mix — and the addition of center Rodney Hudson, J.J. Watt, Matt Prater and A.J. Green have added to the self-policing in the locker room.

Hudson’s ability specifically addresses priorities: to help Murray see the field and stay safe in the pocket.

As for how important 2021 will be for Kingsbury coaching in Arizona a fourth season, Keim didn’t want to touch that topic two days before the season opener of the coach’s third year.

“I think it’s for all of us. It’s a team, No. 1 … and expectations are high,” the GM said.

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Cardinals GM Steve Keim optimistic about CBs, roster before 2021 opener