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Dealing Cards: Bonus day plus Nkemdiche healthier and Wheeler’s versatility

Oakland Raiders running back DeAndre Washington (33) is hit by Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (90) and linebacker Josh Bynes (45) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

On Labor Day, the Arizona Cardinals labored.

For 90 minutes Monday, the Cardinals got after it inside their practice bubble. It marked their first time together since the preseason finale in Denver and cuts reduced an 89-man roster to the required 53, per NFL rules.

“I really like the look of our squad,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “All the painful days are over and it’s good times. We got a very good practice start with the bonus day and I look forward to getting back here Wednesday.”

The Cardinals will practice four times ahead of their Week 1 opener at Detroit.

“It’s definitely game week, and we’re ready to go play some football,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said.

Over the weekend, the Cardinals released 31 players, placed wide receiver Aaron Dobson on injured reserve, waived/injured defensive tackle Ed Stinson and reached injury settlements with linebacker Tre’von Johnson and linebacker Jarvis Jones.

In addition, 10 players were signed to the practice squad, including guard Dorian Johnson and linebacker Scooby Wright; both of whom had been cut on Saturday.

Finally, a group of players who had come together in late July have become the 2017 Cardinals, a familiar refrain of Arians.

“I think we’re smarter,” he said, comparing this year’s roster to 2016. “That’s the biggest thing, especially in the back end of the secondary. We’re, I think, longer and faster again. Each year, we’ve tried to get longer and faster. I think our biggest improvement would be special teams.”

Robert Nkemdiche healthier

Day-to-day is how the Cardinals described the status of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche after he strained his calf the last week of training camp.

Nkemdiche, who was slowed a year ago by an ankle sprain, has not practiced since Aug. 22 and did not appear to be ready to do any on-field work on Monday. He and dollar linebacker Deone Bucannon both worked outside with a trainer while their teammates were inside the practice bubble.

“It feels good,” Nkemdiche said. “My status is between me and the coaches and the staff in there, so I’m just going to keep going forward and getting healthier and taking it day by day.”

So, does Nkemdiche think he’ll play against the Lions?

“We’ll see,” he said.

The Cardinals did not have to issue an injury report on Monday, and Arians was not forthcoming with any news on that front.

The first injury report of the regular season will be released Wednesday.

Philip Wheeler just wants to make plays

Some eyebrows were raised when the Cardinals decided to keep only three outside linebackers—Markus Golden, Chandler Jones and Kareem Martin—on the initial 53-man roster.

Perhaps, many reasoned, rookie Haason Reddick could slide outside if needed. That was, after all, the position he played and excelled at in college.

On Monday, Arians offered up another explanation: Philip Wheeler.

A nine-year veteran, Wheeler had been practicing at outside linebacker the week leading up to the preseason finale. Against the Broncos, he recorded three tackles, including one for loss, one sack and one quarterback hit in 26 defensive snaps.

“I like to go where the ball is going,” he said. “I would like to think that if I get in a game that I’m getting in there to make a play. I want to be where the action is. If team is running behind the tight end a lot, I want to go on that side. I want to be stacked behind that side. If their passing a lot, sometimes I might want to be pass rushing. Wherever the team needs me. If they don’t need me. Whenever they do, I’ll be ready.”

The Cardinals signed Wheeler when injuries depleted the depth at inside linebacker a week into training camp. Soon Wheeler, too, got hurt. A foot injury cost him the first three preseason games, leaving him not much time to impress the coaches.

“It kind of made me feel like I need to show everything I got and make plays; try to make plays. I was able to make a couple of plays the other night,” he said, referring to the Broncos game. “I feel like it worked out fine.”

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