The Arizona Cardinals’ defensive line will have a different look in 2017 because a former stalwart is no longer with the team.
So, with Calais Campbell’s departure to the Jacksonville Jaguars after nine seasons in the Valley, many are wondering what the team will do to replace him.
Naturally, many feel like Robert Nkemdiche, the team’s first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, will step up and fill the void.
Nkemdiche had a disappointing rookie campaign, being active for just five games and recording three total tackles. A guest of Off the Edge with B-Train on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station Monday, Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner said any breakout 2017 from Nkemdiche will come only if the defensive lineman steps up.
“A coach can give you everything: the tools, the knowledge, the drills, watch film with you, even tell you what’s going to happen,” he said. “Until that button is switched in you to say, ‘Alright, I’m going to react and I’m going to let my natural ability kick in,’ it can become an uphill battle.”
Buckner said his goal is to prepare Nkemdiche to be in the best place possible both mentally and physically so that when the time comes, he will be comfortable and ready to make an impact.
To Buckner, it’s not about effort.
“With him, he works hard, does everything, but now I just hope the game begins to feel special to him,” he said.
Essentially, Buckner said Nkemdiche needs to understand that if he does not play up to the standard they want, he will not make it onto the field.
“Because our D-line group, we owe it to everybody else on this team to make sure that we’re not the weak-link,” he said. “We’re the foundation; the trenches, we’ve got to win the trenches.
“I’m not going to put a cracked brick out there and let my foundation be at risk.”
Buckner noted that that with Nkemdiche, they will take progress one day at a time.
But while Nkemdiche may be the one who steps in and replaces Campbell, who left Arizona second in franchise history in sacks with 56.5, Buckner provided another name when asked who he thinks may benefit the most from the two-time Pro Bowler’s departure.
“I really believe Josh Mauro,” he said, reminiscing about how the Cardinals signed him in Nov. 2014 off of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ practice squad. “He was high on our list — Pittsburgh got him before us — but we were blessed to get him.
“Josh came in the first week he was here and started against Seattle, and had we won that game he probably would have been the MVP of the game.”
In fact, after that game Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Mauro, who tallied two tackles (one for loss) in 22 snaps, would have earned a game ball had they emerged victorious.
Since then, Mauro has grown into a reliable and consistent player for Arizona, with career totals of 70 tackles with one sack, one fumble recovery, two forced fumbles and three passes defensed. Forty-two of his tackles came in 2016, a season in which he started 13 of the 15 games he appeared in.
“Josh has played his role, he’s gotten stronger, he’s super smart and tough,” Buckner said. “I think now, for him, going from a small role to now, he can stand up and be that leader on the defensive line and be a true performer in this league, and I’m looking for him to take that giant step.”
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