To continue an ongoing series focusing on the Cardinals undrafted free agents, today let's look at a guy who was a three year starter in the PAC-10. Dennis Keyes started over 35 games at UCLA and finished his senior season with as the team leader in tackles. He had an up and down career as a Bruin but he always had a reputation as a big hitter. Keyes never hesitated to lay the big hit either in the passing game or at the line of scrimmage in support of the run. With Rolle moving to free safety to compete for the job, there are several safeties in the mix but what does Keyes have to do in order to make an impact in 2008 and beyond?
Why the deck is stacked against him: First and foremost, the Cardinals have plenty of depth at the safety position. Keyes played at free safety during college meaning that he's got to contend with Aaron Francisco, Antrel Rolle and Matt Ware as well at FS and Oliver Celestin (another backup safety). Having five established safeties ahead of him will make it tough to make an impression, much less get on the field. Keyes also doesn't have great timed speed and will miss tackles when trying to go for the big hit. His lack of top end speed and stiff hips make it hard for him to keep up with receivers down the field and he struggles when matched up man-to-man.
Why he's got a chance: Keyes is has plenty of experience at a high level of competition meaning that his transition to the NFL won't be as drastic as other rookies. He plays fearless and makes plays all over the field, even against bigger, stronger players. He led his team in tackles and was fourth in the conference (8.83 per game) in 2007. Keyes' has good instincts and plays faster than he times, especially when closing on the ball. For as much as he struggles in man-to-man situations, he is solid in zone coverage when he can back pedal and react when the ball is in the air. At the start of his career, Keyes will have to make an impact on special teams and most importantly coverage units.
Bottom line: If Keyes wants to make the opening day roster, he'll have to be a special teams terror during the preseason. He's got the 'football' speed and demeanor to make an impact kickoff and punt coverage units. As far as the regular defensive group, I wouldn't be surprised if he moves to strong safety where his tackling ability can be used to support the run and his lack of coverage ability can be disguised a bit. He'll also have add some weight to his slender frame (6'1 205). If he can get up to about 220 or so without losing any athleticism, I could see him being a capable backup at strong safety.