Cards like what they found in Veldheer
March, 12, 2014
By Josh Weinfuss | ESPN.com
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesThe Cardinals believe Jared Veldheer will be the offensive line's cornerstone for seasons to come.TEMPE, Ariz. -- Finding a left tackle in free agency is easy.
Finding one that's good enough to be the foundation of a team's offensive line for the foreseeable future is about as likely as hitting the Powerball -- in consecutive weeks.
Well, Wednesday was the Arizona Cardinals' lucky day.
"Any time you can find a left tackle, and not only a left tackle, a 26-year-old left tackle who's playing excellent football, it's a blessing in disguise," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said.
It'll be hard to hide all 6-foot-8, 330 pounds of this blessing. But the good news is that Arizona shouldn't be praying much anymore for Carson Palmer's blind side to be protected.
As free agency approached, Arizona had narrowed its focus on Jared Veldheer, and when the Oakland Raiders decided not to put the franchise tag on him, Keim went all in. His first call on Saturday, the first day of the NFL's three-day negotiating period, was to Aaron Veldheer, Jared's older brother and agent. Arizona was aggressive with its pursuit of Veldheer, who had blocked for Palmer in 2011 and 2012 in Oakland.
By that point, Arizona knew what they were getting. Grading Veldheer was the easiest part of evaluating him for Keim.
Palmer said Veldheer is "very difficult to bull rush," that he's " ... quick. He looks like he's 8-feet tall. He moves really, really well. He moves like a shorter tackle. And he's a monster in the run game. He mauls people."
Keim added: "You can see his size. When guys go speed to power on him, he just engulfs people."
But Keim wanted to know who Veldheer was as a person, as a teammate, as a man.
As Keim explained, getting to the core of a college prospect is easy. Teams have access to coaches, professors, teammates and advisors. Finding out who an NFL free agent is on the inside comes with its own set of hurdles. Fortunately for Arizona, the Cardinals had two built-in references. Cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross was with the Raiders during Veldheer's first two seasons in Oakland. And Palmer trusted Vehldeer with his health for two straight years.
When Keim called Palmer, he asked questions he already knew the answers to, the quarterback said. It was almost as if Palmer was there just to reaffirm the decision Keim was about to make.
"You could tell [Keim had] done plenty of research and turned over every stone and asked me some questions that I think he kinda ended up stating the answer and I just said, ‘Yeah, that's correct, that's correct, that's correct,'" Palmer said.
Between Ross and Palmer, Keim could paint an accurate picture of who Veldheer was: a hard-working, blue collar and talented football player who Palmer raved about as a teammate.
But it was from Ross that Keim and coach Bruce Arians learned one nugget of information that made them want Veldheer even more.
"I think when Bruce and I found out from Kevin Ross that Jared had been known from time to time to scrap on the practice field, he went up in our book," Keim said. "He's our kind of guy."
Keim wouldn't tout him as the next best thing, saying Veldheer still has room to work on his footwork and sets. But, as Keim pointed out, Veldheer will work at it.
"The one thing that I think stood out to Bruce and I about Jared is here's a guy coming out of small Hillsdale College, he goes in the third round to Oakland and all the success that he's had to this point, he's earned," Keim said. "Not only has he earned it but he's got tremendous upside and is still growing as a player from a technical standpoint."
If there's one thing Veldheer doesn't mind doing it's putting in the work.
He gained more than 60 pounds in college by living in the weight room while maintaining his flexibility and athleticism. As a freshman at Hillsdale, he began focusing on his nutrition and strength, his college coach, Keith Otterbein, said. He was a late bloomer, emerging as an NFL prospect in his third year of college.
"I try to control my attitude and my work ethic," Veldheer said. "Really optimizing those two things is what I believe is the recipe for success. Just sticking with those things and wanting to become a better player each and every day I'm here is ultimately what I think is going to be what it takes to get to where I want to go.
"I don't really pay much attention to people saying you might be on the cusp of this or that. I just focus on trying to help my team and be accountable to them and then continue to improve my game, my techniques and really improve to be the best player I can be."
The cusp was left in Oakland.
Veldheer's made it, signing a five-year contract worth $35 million on Wednesday, about 30 minutes before he met the Arizona media for the first time. Framed in a gray suit with red tie, Vehldeer answered the questions, clearly not one to embrace the spotlight like his head coach and general manager.
He'd rather fly under the radar and let someone else get the attention, at least off the field.
In between the hashmarks, he's about as shy as his head coach.
"If there's something that needs to be said, I'm not afraid to say something or to help someone out if you see something, to encourage or let someone know, 'That's an awesome block right there,' 'Way to help me out,' or 'We've just destroyed that guy on a double team,'" Veldheer said.
It's no wonder Arians and Keim liked Veldheer from day one. He's just like them.
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