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Cardinals Go Big On D-Line With Leki Fotu, Rashard Lawrence In Fourth Round

Rebuilding defense has been priority for GM Steve Keim

The Cardinals spent both their fourth-round picks on defensive linemen: Utah's Leki Fotu (left) and LSU's Rashard Lawrence.
The Cardinals spent both their fourth-round picks on defensive linemen: Utah's Leki Fotu (left) and LSU's Rashard Lawrence.

He had an offense that was showing signs of progress last season, but Steve Keim often walked out of the press box multiple times frustrated.

"I vowed that we would fix this defense," the general manager said Saturday, after the Cards wrapped up their draft. "That's what I felt we did this offseason."

That was apparent Saturday, especially when the Cardinals, owners of two fourth-round draft picks, spent them both on defensive linemen: First came Utah's hulking Leki Fotu, then LSU's Rashard Lawrence.

It also was a nod to where the Cardinals felt they were at the end of last season, when the Cards had to use Caraun Reid and Zach Kerr, along with raw rookies Miles Brown and Michael Dogbe, alongside Corey Peters against the Rams.

"You can't have enough defensive linemen," Keim said.

So he went with Fotu, a player Keim said reminded him of one-time first-round pick Vita Vea with "tremendous upside." He went with Lawrence, an "alpha male, tough guy, and truly a mature leader."

And both vowed to pay off that belief.

"Two big interior guys, two big strong guys, and those selections were for a reason," Lawrence said. "We're building the trenches up in Arizona."

In addition to first-round pick Isaiah Simmons and sixth-round pick Evan Weaver, a pair of linebackers, the team's free-agent signings were all defense: defensive linemen Jordan Phillips and Trevon Coley and linebackers Devon Kennard and De'Vondre Campbell.

Now they add size up front. Fotu is 6-foot-5, 330 pounds, Lawrence 6-2, 308. Both are regarded as likely run stuffers, but both said their college schemes contributed to that notion and both believe they can become players that push the pocket on passing downs.

"That's what most people see, but I know I'm a pass rusher," said Fotu, a two-time all-Pac-12 selection who had 4½ sacks total as a junior and senior.

Lawrence had 8½ sacks in his career.

Lawrence had his best college game at State Farm Stadium, named defensive MVP in LSU's semifinal playoff win in 2019. He could have gone pro after his junior season, but he stayed to play for the national champions, and said the SEC "is like a second NFL to me" and helped him learn to prepare to be a pro.

The Cardinals again had some inside information with Lawrence. LSU wide receivers coach Mickey Joseph is the brother of Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, allowing for the kind of intel Keim prefers.

Fotu Fotu is built for football but it was rugby that drew him in first. Fotu was good at the sport, so good he was with the U.S. National Team for a time. It also primed him for a pro career.

"When you come back to football wearing pads, you have the courage to do anything," Fotu said.

Both will benefit from the return to Arizona of defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, who also should help second-year linemen like 2019 third-round pick Zach Allen, Dogbe and Brown. Both Fotu and Lawrence stressed the work ethic needed on the pro level, a mentality that certainly caught the Cardinals' attention.

"The biggest thing I have to understand," Lawrence said, "is you're not able to out-talent anybody anymore."

Keim isn't proclaiming perfection, knowing "we haven't even played any football." But he believes it's the right direction.

"I can't tell you it's ultimately a success," Keim added, "but on paper, I feel like we've done some good things."

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