As the Cardinals hold training camp in what might be their most anticipated season ever, GM Steve Keim must decide which 53 players will make the roster for the season opener.
On Sunday, Keim saw his players practice in pads for the first time in this year’s camp. He told Doug & Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Monday morning that he evaluated practice film on Sunday night.
“We want to see the pads come on,” Keim said. “There are a lot of guys that can be all-pros in shorts, but you find who the real guys are whenever the pads come on and you play the game the right way.”
The GM – now in his fourth season in the position – called quarterback Carson Palmer “on point” with his passes. He gave optimistic reports on several other players’ performances as well, and provided updates on injuries. Here are the biggest storylines that Keim discussed:
D.J. Humphries is expected to start
Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries was a first-round pick in 2015 (24th overall) out of the University of Florida, but his transition to the NFL started with a rookie season in which he was inactive all of the Cardinals’ 18 games.
According to Keim, Humphries has improved.
“The guy that really really has made huge strides is D.J. Humphries,” he said. “I thought he looked exceptional. The one thing that I really liked about him was his level of urgency. Even when there were times where he needed to improve his footwork or do different things with his hands, he competed and tried to finish, which, as you guys know, is sometimes half the battle.”
Though Humphries hasn’t played an NFL snap, he is practicing on first-team offense and has long been expected to line up when the Cardinals open against the Patriots on Sept. 11.
“My expectations are that he’s going to be the starter,” Keim said. “If he fails and doesn’t play at a high-enough level and we need to replace him, then it will have to be internally or we’ll go out and find someone who can, but that’s not what I’m expecting. From what I saw yesterday, my hopes are that he’s going to play and play at a high level. But that goes for every position.”
Brandon Williams impressive in second season at cornerback
Keim called defensive back Brandon Williams one of the players that impressed him after the first practice in pads.
“Some of the things he does naturally with his length and his athleticism is awful hard to coach,” Keim said. “He’s super competitive, which we knew about him going into it.”
The 23-year-old Williams was once a running back for Oklahoma and Texas A&M, but converted to cornerback his senior year. After just one season on defense, Williams was drafted in the third round (92nd overall) in 2016.
“He loved football, he was physical, but you wondered about the technical side of him because he’s only played that position a short period of time,” Keim said. “Well, so far, early on in the process, he’s looked very very good and he’s being challenged every day going against [John Brown] and Larry (Fitzgerald), and he’s certainly held his own.”
David Johnson is a ‘mismatch nightmare’
Running back David Johnson found himself in the starter’s role as a rookie last year after injuries to Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington. He thrived, logging 1,038 yards from scrimmage in 16 games and five starts, scoring 12 touchdowns.
“David Johnson is going to be a mismatch nightmare,” Keim said. “As good as he was last year, he continues to keep this pace at the rate he’s improving, he’s got big upside.”
The University of Northern Iowa alum should be the starter this year, ahead of Ellington and the veteran Johnson.
Despite injury, Robert Nkemdiche will be ‘key contributor’
Rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche was a first-round pick this year (29th overall) from Ole Miss. The 21-year-old suffered a high-ankle sprain in his first training camp.
“It’s going to slow his progression, possibly,” Keim said. “But from what I saw prior to the injury – and I know it was only three quarters of a practice – I was pretty impressed. The get-off, first step, natural explosiveness, he came in in excellent shape. He’s 302 pounds, (with) very little body fat. The guy is ready to go. This is a little bit of a setback obviously, but I have no question in my mind that Robert is going to be a key contributor.”
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