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Late free-agent signings have helped Cardinals

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the last two years as the Arizona Cardinals’ general manager, Steve Keim has been successful at signing veteran free agents just before and during camp.

Several have played key roles in the Cardinals’ winning 21 games. In 2013, John Abraham provided an outside pass rush the team lacked. Eric Winston filled a need at right tackle.

In 2014, defensive end Tommy Kelly helped the Cardinals after starter Darnell Dockett was lost to a knee injury.

Keim is doing the same in this training camp. The team signed tight end Jermaine Gresham just before camp started and last week brought back center Lyle Sendlein, who was cut in March after he declined a reduction in pay.

Gresham and Sendlein could become starters. Both are working on one-year deals with reasonable base salaries (around $1 million) and incentives that could nearly double their earnings.

“Most of these guys (veterans) don’t like to come to camp anyway,” coach Bruce Arians said. “They like to get in those last two weeks. Give them a little heads-up: ‘Make sure you’re in shape. We’re thinking about you.’ And then pull the trigger when we have to.”

This is one way in which Keim and his pro scouting staff work in concert with Arians and his coaching staff. Arians is willing to use young players; but, if coaches decide they aren’t developing as quickly as hoped, Keim turns to his ready list of available veterans.

Gresham gives the Cardinals a veteran at tight end. Sendlein could end up taking back his old starting job because A.Q. Shipley has not impressed at camp.

–Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald turns 32 on Aug. 31, so he has answered a few questions — and taken kidding — about his age.

As usual, Fitzgerald has a comeback. “Did you watch ‘Terminator’ recently?” Fitzgerald said. “Remember his quote. He said, ‘Old but not obsolete.'”

–Sendlein spent his five months away from the team by lifting weights, changing diapers and watching as his new house goes up in Austin, Texas. Other teams expressed interest, but the money and opportunity never aligned. Besides, Sendlein’s heart is in Arizona. He was born in the Phoenix area, grew up a Cardinals fan and started the last seven years.

“I was irritable, irritable as hell,” Sendlein said of his time away from football. “I don’t know how my family dealt with me.”

Sendlein’s teammates were thrilled to see him. No player on the roster garners more respect.

“He’s been a big part of the transformation of this organization,” Fitzgerald said. “I played in a Super Bowl with him. I’ve played in hundreds of games with him. I know what he stands for. He’s going to be a huge addition.”

–WR Michael Floyd suffered three dislocated fingers during a 1-on-1 passing session. Floyd underwent surgery and it is unknown when he will return. Initial estimates were about a month, but his availability for the start of the season is questionable. The Cardinals have depth at the position so will be fine as long as Floyd is not out long term.

–ILB Sean Weatherspoon has missed most of training camp practices due to a hamstring injury. Arians doesn’t seem concerned, saying Weatherspoon is participating in walk-throughs. But Weatherspoon missed all of last season with an Achilles tear and he needs the on-field work. The Cardinals are hoping he is an every-down player, and they want him to be a leader on the defense.

–RB Andre Ellington has missed significant practice due to a sore hamstring. The injury isn’t serious, and coaches are being careful in order to have Ellington healthy for the start of the season. Kerwynn Williams has filled in at the top spot and has run the ball well. He has had a few fumbles lately, however.

BATTLE OF THE WEEK: The punting job is open, with Drew Butler and Dave Zastudil as the competitors. Zastudil is the better punter, but he is 36 and spent most of last season on injured reserve with a torn groin muscle.

Butler took over and was inconsistent, but coaches like him and believe he has potential. If Zastudil stays healthy, he likely will win the job. He has decent leg strength and no one is better at placing punts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.


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