While the Cardinals endured a 5-10-1 season in 2019 with rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and a head coach, Kliff Kingsbury in is first season in the NFL, general manager Steve Keim couldn’t shake the feeling he often had after games as he vowed to do whatever was necessary to upgrade the team’s defense.
“That was the big thing for the offseason.” Keim said Saturday afternoon after he had engineered a draft that brought four additional defenders to the roster: do-everything player Isaiah Simmons, defensive linemen Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence and linebacker Evan Weaver. That followed a free-agency period highlighted by the signings of defensive lineman Jordan Phillips and linebackers Devon Kennard and De’Vondre Campbell.
Keim added, “When you talk about the offensive line or going to get Kyler (Murray) some weapons, I walked away out of that press box every game and I vowed we would fix this defense. That’s what I felt like we did this offseason. I felt like we still had some work to do. We’re not there yet and we haven’t even played any football. I can’t tell you it’s ultimately a success, but on paper, I feel like we’ve done some good things.
“The way the board fell and getting those defensive players I felt is really going to help us and put (defensive coordinator) Vance (Joseph) in a good spot. Lat year, I felt bad for Coach Joseph because in some situations, we just didn’t have the right players or we’d endured some injuries that put him in a tough spot.”
With two choices 17 slots apart in the fourth round, it wasn’t necessarily the plan to select two defensive linemen. When asked if injuries on the line last season were an influence in grabbing both Fotu and Lawrence in that round, Keim said, “I think the thought process was it’s great that we took Fotu, now all of a sudden do we redirect our thoughts to another position? The good news was Lawrence was stacked right there. Secondly, we can’t have enough defensive linemen right now because that’s one of the positional needs that I felt like this football team had that we needed to get better from a depth standpoint.”
On Fotu, Keim said, “Reminded me a lot of Vita Vea (now with the Buccaneers) from the University of Washington. Big space-eater inside, tremendous quickness and athleticism for a big man. Really think he has tremendous upside and a guy that can do a number of things for us.”
As for Lawrence, he said, “Alpha-male. Tough guy. Truly a mature leader and a guy that a national championship program looks to as one of the leaders of that group.. Really, really excited about him.”
Mostly, Keim strongly believes that in a draft that consisted of just six players “that we just got really good football players. Weather it’s Evan Weaver who had 180-something tackles, the proof is in the pudding right there, the guy is productive. No different from as I said Thursday) our first pick in Isaiah Simmons who has rare and unusual measurables, but at the same time backs it up with his production. So, I feel like we got really good football players who are productive and, most importantly to us, have the football IQ and character that we want inside our building.”