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Cardinals’ Youth Movement and Player Development

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Background: Dec 20, 2020; Glendale, Arizona, USA; Arizona Cardinals defensive end Zach Allen (94) blocks a pass against Philadelphia Eagles guard Nate Herbig (67) at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas.

Yesterday on the “How Dare the Cardinals Start a Rookie Mike” thread there was an outstanding comment with questions from Stewie 42:

Thanks Walter, another great read. I am very thankful to all the writers on this site that give their time and energy to us Cardinals fans.

I was interested in hearing your and the readers thoughts on a couple ideas I’m tossing about.

1. You have referenced Kiem’s change in philosophy in several articles now. How much do you think he is being influenced by the coaching staff? Now bear with me, this may be a little crazy. His old way of favoring vats, relegating rooks to the bench, drafting out of position, all started under BA. For the record I love BA, but he loves his cronies, hates playing rooks, favors vets, ect. Could Kliff and company, now that they have a couple years under their belt, actually be the ones pushing for change? It sounds just like Kliff to come out and say Kiem has demanded rookies play when in reality Kliff went to Kiem and said we need players who can contribute right away in the draft, and need to get rid of the the “old vets”

2. Are we overlooking the change in player development? I hear constant references to the Cards inability to coach up the young players. It seems to me that this is not a fair opinion anymore, at least on D. Vance unlocked Hassan and Gardeck by moving them to OLB. Z. Allen has played well when healthy. Murphy is solid. The Thompson twins are valuable contributors. And the DLmen drafted last year, while struggling, showed improvement and promise. The handling of Simmons was questionable, but maybe Vance and staff saw something, or were told something we don’t know about.

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When I wrote my response to Stewie’s astute questions and comments, I thought that perhaps the questions and response deserve a thread of its own.

Here are my responses:

Hey Stewie42,

Thank you for the excellent post and questions.

1. I think that Steve Keim and the coaches have arrived at a common understanding --- to weed the roster of its slackers and to embrace the opportunities to play the younger players, especially seeing as the younger players appear to be stronger athletically and more committed to winning. This year, if a veteran is not doing his job consistently well, I think we will finally see the coaches take them out of the lineup until they show in practice that they can correct their mistakes.

I think that the coaches may have felt pressure to stick with the higher paid veterans in order to please the front office. Now it seems that Steve Keim has given the coaches the green light to go ahead and play the younger players whenever the coaches feel fit.

2. This is such an important question, because improved player development is the key to the Cardinals chances of emerging as a perennial contender. You make good points about the younger players who are already showing progress, while the coaches remain high on yoonger players like Christian Kirk, Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson who have yet to live up to their full potential. Kliff said when they drafted Rondale Moore that he is confident in the “young players we have at the position” and that Moore should be an excellent addition to the group.

Because the GM and coaches are now more committed to playing their draft picks, that is going to help accelerate player development. Confident play only comes through reps and experience --- and with the coaches maintaining a level of belief and patience with the players.

I think that Steve Keim and the coaches are and remain very high on the three drafts they’ve had since Kliff became head coach.

From the previous three drafts (BA’s last two and Wilks’ one) only Budda Baker, Christian Kirk and Chase Edmonds remain.

Yet from the Cardinals’ 2019 and 2020 drafts 15 of the 17 players are on the 90 man roster (WR Hakeem Butler and TE Caleb Wilson are the only 2) --- and there are good reasons to believe that all of them (plus the 2021 draft picks) have excellent chances to remain on the 2021 53 man roster or the 12 man practice squad:

QB Kyler Murray

RB Eno Benjamin

WR Andy Isabella, KeeSean Johnson, Rondale Moore

OL Joshua Miles, Lamont Gaillard, Josh Jones, Michal Menet

DL Zach Allen, Michale Dogbe, Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence

LB Isaiah Simmons, Evan Weaver, Zaven Collins, Victor Dimukeje

CB Byron Murphy, Marco Wilson, Tay Gowan

S Jalen Thompson, Deionte Thompson, James Wiggins

Questions for ROTB members: (feel free to answer all or some)

  • What are your responses to Stewie’s two questions?
  • When we look at these three draft hauls on paper, it looks impressive, doesn’t it?
  • How many of these players do you think will make the 53 man roster?
  • How many of these players do you think might not at least make the 12 man practice squad?

Thanks again Stewie42 for your superb, thought-provoking post.