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 Saturday, the picture got a bit more clear as the team took part in its Red & White practice in front of just more than 25,000 fans at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Monday morning, the GM took some time out of his day to talk with Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Doug & Wolf and share his thoughts on what went down.
Were you surprised how easily Wolf went down in the Red & White scrimmage?
“What was that Toby Keith song, “Not as Good as I Once Was?” That would certainly be applicable to Wolf’s athleticism these days, there’s no doubt about it.”
Why did you re-sign Larry Fitzgerald and Carson Palmer?
“As we’ve talked about before, identifying core members of your team that you want to move forward with, and it was pretty simple in terms of roster certainty. As we look at the big picture and we do it from a two or three-year view, to understand some of the tough decisions we’re going to end up having to make, getting both of those players under contract was key for us. I don’t think there’s any question that when you look back on 2015 and the types of years that both of those guys had, they certainly earned those extensions.”
A lot of people thought the moves were made to save salary cap, but that had nothing to do with it, right?
“Whether it’s acquiring players in free agency, the draft, we’re going to continue to stay proactive and aggressive. I think these moves, again, were just an indication of roster certainty; knowing that these players will be under contract next year, moving forward, Larry through ’17, Carson through ’18 and again the type of leaders that these guys are in our locker rooms, the good football that I think both of them have left — I think it was an outstanding deal for both of us, for both Larry, Carson and the team. I think any time you can sign a guy like Larry, Carson and an extension for Tyrann Mathieu in one week, it’s certainly an exciting week for me.”
Did the negotiations for Carson and Larry go smoothly, has this been in the works for a while?
“I don’t get into negotiations, but it got done so the end result was positive and again, we’re looking forward to having these guys beyond 2016.”
What did you think of the Red & White practice Saturday?
“I think it was good. The guys got after it — there was a lot of physicality. At the same time, I think our coaches would be the first to tell you there’s a lot of things that we can clean up on tape. We always know that early on in camp a lot of those issues are mental things that can be corrected, and there’s some technical things that some of these guys need to improve upon. But the good news is we have some, particularly some young, newer players that play fast and physical and that’s what you’re looking for in these scrimmages.”
Are you prepared to say the offensive line that’s been running with the first-team in camp is the offensive line going forward?
“I don’t think I could ever say that this early in camp. I think we need to put the best five out there, and that won’t be determined until the end of camp. So there’s going to be some position battles. D.J. Humphries is continuing to improve, yet at the same time there’s no doubt he needs to clean up his footwork and his hand placement and all those sort of things. He is a young player that needs to improve, and he knows what our expectations are. There are some other guys like Earl Watford who has stepped up and has done some nice things. Earl’s positional flexibility is really key for us for where he can bounce anywhere from center to guard to tackle; and he’s had a nice camp. Earl is a guy that seems like he’s finally getting over the hump. He’s stayed healthy and he’s playing physical as well right now.”
Looking at the roster, you’re going to have to cut four or five guys who can play in the NFL. How confident are you that you can maybe work out some type of deal to get something for some of those players?
“Hopefully we do have that opportunity, whether it’s a draft pick or a player at another position that can help us. As I look and pinpoint the days like the 16th of this month when we’re going to be practicing with the San Diego Chargers for a few days, that’s a perfect example of an opportunity for both teams to get a look and see some of the players that are on the fringe and maybe (Chargers GM) Tom Telesco and myself can possibly talk about either draft compensation or trading a player for player. But again, trades are easier said than done — it’s like finding a franchise quarterback and a franchise left tackle. You can say all you want that’s your goal, but it takes two to tango and it has to be the right opportunity.”
Back to the Red and White practice, what are the position battles you are focused on?
“I don’t think there’s any secret that a couple spots on the offensive line, whether it’s center, right tackle, corner, those are spots that we’ve looked for a new starter, so to speak. Those can be the big time battles. I think that the way Brandon Williams has played has gotten a lot of people excited. Again, he’s kind of like D.J. in the sense that he’s got to clean up some of the technical things, but he’s big, he’s long, he’s physical — he does an excellent job in press (coverage), and he competes his butt off every day in practice. There’s no better look that he gets than he gets from Larry and Michael (Floyd) and Smoke (John Brown), we’ve talked about that before. So those guys are getting better every day, and that’s the same thing for guys like Markus Golden and D.J. Humphries and Jared Veldheer actually thanked me the other day for bringing in Chandler Jones. Sometimes you don’t think about, Chandler Jones was brought in to make our defense much better, but Jared Veldheer told me in six or seven years of playing in the NFL he’s never practiced on a daily basis with a guy as talented as Chandler Jones, so that’s making him better. So sometimes it’s that double-edged sword that you don’t think about. Not only does he make our defense better, he’s making Jared Veldheer better on a daily basis. So competition creates success, in my opinion.”
How is Robert Nkemdiche looking in his recovery from a high ankle sprain?
“He’s coming along well and I think when you saw him get rolled up, most men probably would have been in a much different situation, from an injury-standpoint, than Robert. The guy is a physical specimen. He’s coming along daily — he looks fantastic physically. He’s 302 pounds with somewhere probably between six to 10 percent body fat. The guy is a special talent, now it will be just nice to get him back on the field sooner so he can adapt mentally and continue to grow and improve as a player. But I have no doubt that Robert’s going to come back healthy and he is going to make a positive impact for our team.”
Tell us the Chris Hubert story
“It’s amazing, as we call him ‘Little Smoke’ now. His father, whose nickname was ‘Smoke’ was my equipment manager at NC State, so this past spring when I went back to work out a few different players in Raleigh, he asked me if I’d do him a favor and let his son from Fayetteville State jump in on the workout, so I told him it would be no problem. So Terry McDonough and I were there, and we watched him with John Ritch, our area scout, and we watched him move around. The numbers that we had, he ran a 4.72, but he looked much quicker in the workout than that. So after the workout I told him to keep working hard, and we’d talk to him at a later date. Told his dad that I don’t know if I can sign him after the draft as a free agent, but I’ll certainly bring him in as a tryout guy on a weekend. Well, the rest is history. The guy comes in, he has a great weekend mini-camp for us — much better than some of the guys we signed as free agents after the draft, and so we released a player, we signed him, and so far in camp they can’t cover him. So it’s been a great story. He’s a wonderful kid. Obviously not the biggest in terms of size and stature, but he’s got tremendous quickness, great ball skills and has really opened up some eyes so far early on in camp.”
Any other newcomers impress you?
“Marqui Christian continues to impress me. He’s got to continue to grow mentally, but the way he flies around and strikes people with his explosiveness and his foot speed; he’s got a chance to be a really good player. But it’s early in the process, it’s the mental part of the game that he’s got to continue to grow and get better. A lot of the rookies have looked good, but they have to continue to grow in the mental part of the game and I think we’ve talked about that enough before, how critical that is.”
When you signed Larry Fitzgerald to that extension, did you think he will now for sure end his career as a Cardinal?
“That’s my mindset regardless. I, personally, I’d like to think that he’ll never play for another team, but you can never say never. It’s just like Carson Palmer — hopefully this deal puts in place a reason for him to retire a Cardinal; that’s our intent, to have both of those guys retire as Cardinals. And if you just went based off my opinion, I think both of those guys will remain Cardinals until the end of their career.”