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Keiser, Abraham And The Pass-Rusher Role

Posted Sep 2, 2014

Cardinals continue to search for help off the edge as 11 linebackers dot roster

Linebacker John Abraham tries to spin out of a Bengals hold as he rushed the passer during the preseason.

After he had sacked Cardinals quarterback Logan Thomas and forced a fumble, linebacker Thomas Keiser stood on the sideline and joked to a Chargers teammate, “Watch, the Cardinals will pick me up.”

After doing the math in his head, it had been a foregone conclusion to Keiser since the spring he wasn’t going to make San Diego’s 53-man roster. He wanted to perform well enough to have someone want him, and the Cardinals did, claiming him on waivers this week.

The math was equally simple for the Cardinals. Keiser, with nine sacks in a brief career, provides pass rush possibilities. That was more attractive than keeping sixth wide receiver Walt Powell, who was cut as Keiser came aboard.

The Cardinals are linebacker-heavy these days, with 11 inhabiting the 53-man roster. In the necessary chase for guys who can get to the quarterback, that’s probably not overload.

The Cards added Keiser, are counting on veteran John Abraham to be ready after his absence the first part of training camp, and hope someone like Sam Acho can break out a bit as a pass rusher as he goes into a contract year. It’s not just the outside linebackers the Cardinals hope can make a difference, which is why defensive lineman Tommy Kelly was signed and why Calais Campbell said he often hears it from coaches that he needs to dominate more often.

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles made the pass rush productive a season ago, but the Cardinals can’t know for sure yet how set they are at that aspect of that game.

“We better be,” coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s too late now to be looking.”

For Arians, a guy like Powell was likely to be inactive every week. A linebacker like Keiser could conceivably be ready to play as soon as Monday against the Chargers. Keiser certainly thinks so, saying that as long as he picks up the defense – which the Stanford product believes he will – he can jump in and get after former teammate Philip Rivers.

“(Pass rushing) is my favorite thing to do, and I happen to be good at it and I am developing at it,” Keiser said. “So when I go on the field I want to be pressuring or sacking the quarterback and making him have a really bad day.”

That’s one of the reasons Arians doesn’t mind a guy who has just signed being dropped into the lineup at some point. The main reason Keiser is in Arizona is to get after the passer. Every guy active on game day can fit in somewhere, even on limited prep.

That was the message Arians delivered to his team Tuesday, the first time they came together as a 53-man team plus practice squad.

“Now it’s all about ‘we,’ ” Arians said. “Now, find a role. If you don’t know what your role is, come up to my office, I’ll tell it to you real straight. That could change next week, but everyone has a role for this week, and it’s what it takes for this team to win.”

It’s not just about the outside linebackers, of course. Kelly insisted “we’ve got a lot of guys who can punch a hole in the backfield” and up front, the Cardinals would be thrilled with non-blitz pressure.

Abraham figures to remain the lead in that regard. His 11½ sacks haven’t been forgotten, and he’s in line to start against the Chargers despite missing the first three weeks of camp.

“He’s probably as close this year as he was this time last year (to being ready),” Arians said. “There’s no big difference for him.”

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