Two head southwest to start their professional football careers, as fullback Austin Ramesh and defensive end Alec James signed with the Arizona Cardinals. Both were critical pieces to a senior class that was the winningest in school history and claimed two consecutive New Year’s Six bowl wins, along with last year’s 13–1 season.
How do they fit in the NFL? Revenge of the Birds’ Seth Cox helped us break down how both players could project in the Cardinals’ schemes on both offense and defense. The interview below was lightly edited for clarity.
From your point of view, how did the Cardinals fare during the draft and with their UDFAs?
Seth: I think we are seeing the new culture and leadership team take over. Bruce Arians and Steve Keim worked well together and had a plan. Now it is Keim and Steve Wilks. The plan showed up to start the draft with a complete overhaul of the offense. Of the Cardinals’ six picks, five were on offense. While Rome was not built in a day, it surely shows that Wilks has more confidence in himself getting the most out of the defense than, say, the offense being competent as is.
As for the UDFA crop, many were small-school kids or big-school kids that fill a specific role. I think that’s where you’ll find your Badger alumni fit in.
Ramesh told B5Q last month that he worked out for the Cardinals, so it wasn’t necessarily a surprise on our end that he was signed as an UDFA. What was your reaction when you heard about Arizona bringing in a fullback?
It’s about time. The Cardinals like to get to know the players they’re bringing in and use those visits accordingly. They may spend time with a high-end prospect when they go to a team workout day, but more than likely, they are going to spend the time getting to know the kids they want to bring in as the UDFA. Ramesh is no exception. They identified him early as the fullback they coveted and made it easy for both parties to get things done quickly.
Looking at the roster, I saw one fullback listed, and that would be Ramesh. How did the Cardinals utilize their tight ends last season? With the new coaching staff, does the addition of Ramesh mean some offensive philosophy changes?
Steve Wilks has said from day one he wants to run the football.
The Cardinals’ last head coach didn’t believe in a fullback, said it was a waste of a roster spot. That’s clearly not what Wilks wants. So, under Mike McCoy, they’ll again utilize a fullback to get back to a power run game, with a lead blocker in the backfield with All-Pro David Johnson.
As for how he’ll be utilized, it’s a new offense, we expect big changes and just having a pure fullback on the roster, even in camp, is a change.
Way-too-early thoughts here: How can Ramesh lock down a spot on the active roster?
Be a physical, hard-nosed presence in the run game and work his ass off on special teams. Coming from Wisconsin, I doubt that effort will be an issue. It seems to be coded in their DNA to work hard. So, it’ll just be about fit and how he positively affects the run game and special teams.
The Cardinals, like you said, don’t have any other fullbacks they are bringing in, so it’ll be Ramesh’s job to lose starting during rookie mini-camps.
With Alec James and Arizona’s defensive line, who will he have to compete against?
There’s a lot of bodies, but only three are locks to be on the roster in Chandler Jones, Markus Golden, and newly signed Benson Mayowa. That means James will be competing for a spot with Moubarak Djeri, who seems to be the only other pure 4-3 defensive end on the roster at this time, as well as any other UDFA’s the Cardinals signed.
Did the signing of James help fill any void on the defensive line?
It was definitely a depth signing. Golden is coming off an ACL tear, Mayowa is the insurance starter, but after that, the roster is extremely thin. It should give James a nice shot to make an impact this offseason and earn a training camp invite.
What will James have to show to earn that ultimate goal of an active roster spot?
Wilks’ defenses rely on physicality up front. If there’s one thing we know about James, it is that he doesn’t mind mixing it up.
The question becomes: is he athletic enough to offer more than just a run-stopping base defensive end in the NFL? If he shows that, then he’ll have a good shot to make a roster or at least a practice squad.
With Golden coming off the ACL, I’m not sure Wilks will be looking for a run down-only type player. Although, James has shown he has a special type of motor and doesn’t quit, which always endears players to coaches.