Cards GM Rod Graves Interview


Posted Feb 24, 2007


The Cardinals General Manager, and top decision maker, talks about the free agent crop, the combine he's watching now, his star quarterback's shoulder problems, and his new coaching staff.

Q. Ken Whisenhunt recently sat down with your scouting staff, giving them his ideas of the kinds of players he likes at each position. Is that dramatically different than what you’ve been looking for?

A. “No, one of the attractive elements to our decision to go with Coach Whisenhunt is we felt like the plan that he had talked about with respect to offense and defense, that we had many of those pieces in place in terms of our personnel. We really feel like in many respects it’s a plug-and-play type of approach. We feel like we have some talented players and with a good plan that our players believe in and a stress on discipline and execution, I feel like we’ll be a much better football team.”

Q. How would you characterize the free agent market?

A. “I think that there are always opportunities out there. We’re going to take the approach that we’re going to try and fill as many needs as we can in free agency and then take the additional approach that we’re going to draft the best players available. That’s generally been our approach over the last several years. It’s worked very well for us, and I don’t see that changing.”

Q. Do you anticipate things will happen like last year, when you had some free agents visit and then signed them before they left?

A. “It’s possible. I’d say that was a unique situation. I’m not by any stretch of the imagination going to guarantee that we’re going to approach it that way. I think Edgerrin James added a unique element to our approach last year. It was an opportunity to address our running game with one of the best backs in the history of the game. And we wanted to jump on that opportunity. If we’re in position where we can do something similar with a player who carries as much impact, then I think we’re poised to do that.”

Q. Leonard Davis, the perception that he could be leaving, accurate?

A. “I think that that’s a possibility but we’ve also left the door open to re-sign Leonard. He stated he wants to return, he wants the opportunity to continue with us and play for a coach like Russ Grimm and be under the guidance of Ken Whisenhunt. We feel excited about a lot of the things we have in place, and I think he shares that excitement with us. What we didn’t want to do with Leonard, obviously, the situation with him from a cap standpoint was large, and we didn’t necessarily want to get back into that area with him. “We wanted to have an opportunity to see where the market would be for him and to work with him during the course of that. I’ve indicated to his agents, Ryan Tollner and Bruce Tollner, that we do have an interest in talking with him and seeing if we can get something re-established with him during this period of free agency.”

Q. Will they get back to you if they get an offer from another team?

A. “I know that him returning under those conditions is not a guarantee. But we’re trusting in the fact that he sees this as a good home for him and his family and that he would give us an opportunity first before making a decision to move on.”

Q. Hard question to hear, but it’s about the decision to make a coaching change.

A. “I mentioned three areas earlier that were a concern to me personally, that was having a plan that our entire team believed in, and obviously Ken presented such a plan with the personnel we have in place. I think it’s the right direction for our team. He’s had great success. He did a marvelous job with the development of Ben Roethlisberger, and with our young quarterback I think that’s going to be key. “The other two things for anyone who has watched us closely over the years is that we have not been a very disciplined football team in many respects. We have not executed as well, and I think having studied teams like Indianapolis, New England, Pittsburgh, they’ve done an excellent job with respect to those three areas. And I feel like this time we have the opportunity to move forward and to satisfy our objectives in those areas.”

Q. What was the thinking behind having players involved in the interview process for a head coach?

A. “Having the players involved in the interview process is something that Michael Bidwill and I conceived. The objective behind that was to give the coaches involved an opportunity to see the desire level of our players. It was not that they were part of the determining factor in terms of who we were selecting. It gave them an opportunity to really express their opinions about our team, about the kind of areas they felt like we needed to address. I think more than anything we wanted them to get before the candidates and give the candidates the opportunity to see that we have quite a few football players on this team, like Anquan Boldin, like Adrian Wilson, like Matt Leinart and many others that really want to be successful. “In other words, give them something to believe in and I think they’ll run through a wall for us.”

Q. Just how debilitating was that loss to the Bears?

A. “Obviously it was a disappointment and it took a lot out of our football team. I was actually more disappointed not in that game, but in the two previous games that followed. We played Green Bay and we didn’t play as well as we needed to play. We came back against Oakland and didn’t play as well. “I felt like we exemplified to many people what kind of team we had in that Bears game, that we were capable of playing good football. The fact that we lost our air in the second half really was really was not as big a factor as not being able to bounce back from it in the two subsequent games. I felt like we should have won those games. We should have been more prepared than we were. I feel like our team is a much tougher team than that. Mentally, we’re tougher than that, and it should not have had as big a impact. In fact, it should have been quite the opposite. We should have drew on the positives of what we accomplished that game and how we lost it and not have it affect us beyond that point.”

Q. Question about Louisville’s Amobi Okoye, who is only 19?

A. “To me, it’s amazing how these youngsters are growing up nowdays. I don’t remember players being that big and that talented when I was in high school. But you take a guy who, at his age coming in as a freshman, it’s even more unbelievable. He’s an outstanding player, and we’ll have an opportunity ourselves to interview him here. We haven’t done so yet. We’re looking forward to judging his maturity level.”

Q. Is there an upside to taking someone so young, that you have time to develop him?

A. “I think the objective of all NFL teams is to try to bring in players who can contribute immediately, and then if that’s not the case you have to work with what you have. We don’t have the luxury, given the salary cap and free agency, to bring a player along other than the quarterback position. I think that will be a concern. It will be a concern to us as to how quickly we think a player like that, given his level of maturity, whether or not he can come in and handle the pressures of our game and respond. But so far at the college level he’s done a great job in that respect.”

Q. You’ve drafted some good receivers. How do you sort talent out at that spot?

A. “As at any position, we basically judged our players on their passion for the game, their football intelligence and how physical they play. When you look at a player like Anquan Boldin, he meets all of that. In our opinion, Anquan is the standard now in terms of how we view other receivers. And so, as we rank this class we’ll be looking at those guys in those terms: their passion for the game, their football intelligence and how physical they are with respect to carrying out there duties. This is a good class, lot of speed and we’ll line them up accordingly.”

Q. Anquan slipped in the draft because of concerns about speed, what does that say about the importance of the combine?

A. “I think it certainly throws a lot out the door in terms of emphasis that teams, or general managers and personnel directors like myself put on speed. I think there has got to be a balance. We’ve seen repeatedly – and not just with Anquan – throughout the league where you have players that don’t meet the ideal standard for speed, or the ideal standard for size and yet they turn out to be great football players. We have a couple guys not at the level of Anquan, but the way they play the game has compensated for any lack of abilities, or any lack of size or speed that they possess. But we’re more focused on people who make us better and have a passion for the game, and I think that’s going to make us a better team.”

Q. Will you have a team effort on draft day?

A. “Absolutely. We’ve always approached it from a team effort standpoint, understanding where we are as a football team. Our coaches and scouts have worked very hard together, even in a short window of time, and we’re just trying to understand concepts and needs. I think Coach Whisenhunt has done an excellent job in articulating to our scouting staff and to his newly-formed coaching staff exactly what we need, what we’re looking for at those positions, and the type of player we would like to have in our program. We’ve done a great job in organizing and making sure everybody’s on the same page with respect to that. “I view my role in particular when it comes to the draft and to free agency as supporting the plan that he’s put forward. This will not be a dominating approach from my seat. It’s more about working with coach Whisenhunt, trying to put him the position where he can be the best coach he can be.”

Q. Leinart had two shoulder injuries this year (sprains in each one), does he need to get stronger?

A. “Yeah, when Matt first came in I’m not sure how much weight lifting he had ever done at USC. So I’m hoping that John Lott (new strength coach) and a whole new strength program that we’re implementing will benefit him and a number of others on our football team. But Matt’s a soldier and his shoulder is probably near 100 percent, if not already. He’s anxious to get in with Ken and Todd Haley and just kind of get underway with this stuff. “I heard recently that he and Anquan were together throwing the ball already, and there’s an anxiousness around our place and a lot of anticipation about this season. We’re looking forward to progress rather than change.”

Q. Do you plan to use cap space to re-sign players?

A. “No question. My objective, and it has been over the last couple years, is to use our cap room to solidify a strong core of players. And that core could be anywhere from 15 to 20 players. We would like that group to be the cornerstone of that team. And the whole thought process is to reinvest in those guys, to keep and develop some continuity within that group. But we want to be selective about who is in that group. We’re talking about the Anquan Boldin- types, the Larry Fitzgerald-s, Adrian Wilson, those type of guys that we think can make a huge difference for us in the long term. And that’s where we’re going to continue to re-invest our money and make sure we can keep those players together.”



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