Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim addresses the media at the Scouting combine Thursday.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Cardinals "absolutely" take the NFC West into account when it comes to building the roster, and with that in mind General Manager Steve Keim wants his defense to get longer and more athletic.
In particular, Keim said Thursday from the annual Scouting combine, would be the positions of safety and defensive end – better to battle mobile quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick as well as the opposing tight ends that gave the Cards so much trouble this season.
"On each side of the ball," Keim said, "we were at least two to three players away from being an upper-echelon team."
Improving the offensive line is part of that plan. But Keim believes good teams in this salary cap age have a dominate side of the ball. That's where the Cardinals are aiming.
"Seattle was a dominant defense with a solid offense," Keim said. "Denver was a dominant offense with an OK defense. In our situation, we are closer to having a dominant defense. So I think you have to continue to throw gas on the fire. Continue to
build the strength. At the same time it's not going to take away what we do offensively. We know we have areas we need to fix. It certainly needs to catch up with the defense."
Keim has said he wants the Cardinals to be more physical, but that will only get the Cardinals so far. Left tackle Bradley Sowell, for instance, drew frequent compliments from coach Bruce Arians for his willingness to scrap but the Cards would like someone more athletic on the edge.
"Brawler-type guys aren't the ones who will necessarily win in this division," Arians said. "There are too many great athletes in the division, but everyone plays physical. You want guys who want to play one-on-one, 'I'll kick their ass or they'll kick mine.' "
When analyzing potential players – and draft picks – the mentality of being physical plays a big part in the thought process.
"Two things we always say in our meetings," Keim said. " 'If they don't bite when they are puppies, when are they going to bite?' And as Bruce has said before, with the aggressive young players, it's a lot easier to tell them 'Whoa' than 'Sic.'
"You have players with a certain type of athleticism, either they are talented or they are not, they usually can't get a whole lot smarter, and they either bite or they don't. Sometimes you can improve their tackling skills, but generally, a guy is a physical player or he isn't."
RE-SIGNING DANSBY, OR MOVING ON
Getting linebacker Karlos Dansby to sign a new contract is a "big priority," Keim said. But with Dansby nearing age 33, Keim also said the team has to be prepared to lose Dansby if he reaches free agency. Dansby has said he thinks he deserves a big raise from the $2.25 million he received this season.
"We spend the majority of our year building a database that has every contract analyzed in the NFL and you have to take into account age, production, that sort of thing," Keim said. "That dictates your length of contract, it dictates what type of money and structure you are going to have."
Keim said he has confidence that Arians can work with whatever roster eventually comes out for the Cards because Arians is willing to play young players and players brought in off the street.
"Not a lot of coaches will do that," Keim said. "A lot of coaches will put up a fight because it is out of their comfort zone. Bruce understands there is a business aspect."
"There is a reason we drafted Kevin Minter in the second round," Keim added.
PALMER BREEDS CONFIDENCE
The possibility the Cardinals draft a quarterback remains. But Keim again stressed the Cards were happy with the play of Carson Palmer.
"With the supply and demand at quarterback, Carson at least puts us in the position where you don't have to force, and when I say force, you're sitting at 20 or wherever we are in the draft, and feel like we have to have one," Keim said.
COOPER'S RETURN FOR OTAs ON TRACK
Last year's No. 1 draft pick, guard Jonathan Cooper, is well on his way to returning from a broken leg in time for offseason work, Keim said. (Linebacker Sam Acho is as well).
After Cooper missed all of last season, his return will be almost as if the Cardinals will add a second first-round pick to the roster this season.
"A couple of weeks ago, I took a lunch break and came back at 1 in the afternoon and he's out on the field by himself, doing stance and starts and working on his drill work," Keim said. "You can't have enough guys like him in your locker room."