BY: ED COLE
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Over the weekend, the Arizona Cardinals were gracious enough to open their facilities to the NFL for their Regional Scouting Combine, which was a major success.
Almost 200 NFL hopefuls were there on Saturday, doing exactly what the NFL hopefuls will do this week in Indianapolis, Ind., at the NFL Scouting Combine. The big advantage the young men had on Saturday is that they got to hear from Cardinals general manager Steve Keim, who spoke with them passionately about what he and his team are looking for as far as the next crop of Cardinals talent goes.
More importantly than that, Keim was real and honest with them about the type of men the Cardinals are searching for. Keim said they’re looking for quality young men with character and heart. While Keim talked, every young man who kneeled in front of him listened intently. You could hear a pin drop inside the bubble.
“Anytime that you have an opportunity on a big stage to be in front of NFL personnel, it’s a great opportunity,” Keim said. “At the same time, I think there’s a bigger message sometimes for some of these guys. It’s what comes with being an NFL player. There are a lot of responsibilities. I think the thing that goes unnoticed, and I’ve noticed with years and years of evaluations, and missing on players, is what’s the difference between the good and the great ones, or the guys who don’t make the league? A lot of it is personal character: It’s the way you conduct yourself, the way you carry yourself off the field.”
“My message was, just to let them know, that when we talk to coaches about you, and when we go to the colleges to evaluate players, I can see on tape that you’re a talented guy. The question I have is what kind of person are you? How passionate are you about the game, (and) what are your off-field issues?” Keim said. “To me, that’s the difference in the good and great ones. It’s the off-field stuff. That’s what’s made guys like Larry Fitzgerald (and) Carson Palmer so successful in this league. It’s how they conduct themselves, and how they carry themselves like a pro.”
Keim wasn’t there just to give the keynote address to the athletes; he was there to scout out some talent as well. The Cardinals have become the masters of finding talent at the lesser-known schools. Guys like John Brown (Pittsburg State), J.J. Nelson (UAB), Justin Bethel (Presbyterian), David Johnson (Northern Iowa) and Rodney Gunter (Delaware State) come to mind when talking about finding a “diamond in the rough.”
For Keim, it comes down to a numbers game when evaluating future talent. Keim says he and his staff will look at as many players as they need to in order to make the right decisions on who to add and who to say no to.
“Anytime we have an opportunity to look at players, we’re gonna do it,” Keim said. “My mindset is leave no stone unturned and continue to try to beat the bushes, because for every five guys that you scout at USC, there’s going to be one diamond in the rough that can help you. There are players who can come from smaller schools, and come from less hype, and be able to produce in the NFL.”
A big reason why Keim’s so attracted to this relatively unknown talent is because all of the guys mentioned three paragraphs ago, along with the ones at the Regional Scouting Combine, and the ones Keim and his staff are looking at now, have something to prove, and they’ll go to any lengths needed to show it, because they’re that hungry to be in the NFL.
“It’s one of those situations where these guys come out with very little fanfare, (and) they haven’t had a silver spoon in their mouths,” Keim said. “Just like (Arizona left tackle) Jared Veldheer. We signed him in free agency, and when you looked at him versus some of the other tackles out there: Here’s a guy from Hillsdale College, he was never given anything, he was drafted in the third round (2010 NFL Draft), and he’s been a great guy for us, not only on the field, but in our locker room, because he still plays with that mindset that he’s that guy from Hillsdale, not USC or Notre Dame. Sometimes those guys have a natural chip on their shoulder that stays within them.”
“I always say this: Whenever you look at the Pro Bowl, or you look at Hall of Fame inductions, it’s not a list of Notre Dame, Tennessee (or) Georgia. There’s Tennessee State, there’s Savannah State, there’s Grambling,” Keim said. “So you can find these players at smaller schools. They have to have the skill set, and they have to have the passion and love for the game. If they have those things, you got a chance.”