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Chandler Jones: DT Robert Nkemdiche, Cards will benefit from 4-3 defense

Chandler Jones (left) and Robert Nkemdiche (right) (AP Photos)

When the Arizona Cardinals’ regular season begins, the new 4-3 defense should be muscle memory for even the players it impacts most.

The change from the 3-4 front under former head coach Bruce Arians most affects defensive end Chandler Jones, who was previously listed as an outside linebacker. He will now move to the edge of the defensive line, giving Arizona a fourth down lineman in its standard attack.

But even though Jones is taking on a title change, he believes the new scheme will be for the better. It should help one of the young Cardinals who’s yet to break out.

The pressure is on third-year defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.

A 2016 first-round pick, he struggled playing under the 3-4 defense that put a lot on him in terms of responsibility, according to Jones. Despite producing just 11 tackles and one fumble recovery last season, Arizona will lean on the 23-year-old quite a bit with more losses than additions along the line.

Jones believes the 4-3 defense should help him play more free, more reactionary football.

“I feel like it’s more of an attack front — and when I say attack front, I feel like everybody has a smaller responsibility,” Jones told Bickley & Marotta on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “You have one gap and go straight forward. When you’re in a 3-4 defense, a lot of guys on the front line on the defensive line are two-gap, which you have a lot more responsibility.

“It makes it go that much faster. Like Robert Nkemdiche, he’s so explosive off the ball, and I felt like a lot of times last year … he was thinking too much. He was two-gapping. He’ll tell you himself, he’s not a two-gap player. I’m excited for him.”

The truth will bear itself out on the field.

As for Jones himself, the 28-year-old doesn’t have much to prove after his first First Team All-Pro season. He wouldn’t put a number on what he’s hoping for as far as statistical production in 2018, only adding that he wants to improve upon the year prior.

That’s still a hefty goal. Jones dropped weight before last season and then recorded an Arizona franchise-record 17.0 sacks. After the Cardinals’ first OTA on Tuesday, he said that he’s simply focused on making a three-point stance feel more natural on a snap-by-snap basis.

It’s something he did more often as a New England Patriot, before he was traded to the Cardinals in 2016.

“It’s a different conditioning,” he said. “If you go back and look at the footage last year, we were in a 4-3 probably about 70 percent of the snaps. The new thing to me is getting in a three-point stance more often. Lot of times with first, second down, I’d be in a two-point stance.

“As very basic as it sounds — like oh it’s just a three-point stance — it’s actually hard. It’s almost like doing an up-down. That’s my main focus point first week of these OTAs.”

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