GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was an 11-on-11 drill Tuesday afternoon and Carson Palmer dropped back to pass.
He looked over the middle, where he saw Larry Fitzgerald running free across the field. What he didn’t see was linebacker Kenny Demens, who was ready to step in front of the Pro Bowl wideout to make a play on the ball.
Demens did exactly that, picking off the pass and returning it for a touchdown.
“Oh it felt great, it felt great,” he said of the pick-six.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet one of the contenders to help fill the void at middle linebacker.
Demens was originally signed by the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and saw a handful of snaps, collecting three tackles in the two games he played.
Before Arizona, though, he was a star at Michigan, where he led the Wolverines with 94 tackles as a junior and was second as a senior with 82. He finished his four-year career in Ann Arbor with 265 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, one forced fumble, one interception and three passes defensed.
Now a professional, he’s trying to make a Cardinals roster that could very much use help at his position now that Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington, two of the players who helped conspire to keep him off the field last season, are out of the picture.
“Whenever you lose anybody, whether due to injury or whatever the situation is, there’s always room to step in and play,” he said. “Me, what I bring to this team, hopefully I can that this year.”
Veteran Larry Foote and second-year pro (and second-round pick) Kevin Minter figure to get the first crack at the middle linebacker jobs, but it’s unlikely each stays on the field as much as Dansby and Washington did last season. So, it stands to reason the Cardinals will need depth behind them, which may be where Demens comes into play.
The pre-draft scouting report on Demens listed him as being a bit on the slow side adding he may have trouble in coverage, which is also the book on both Foote and Minter. At 6-foot-1 and 242 pounds, he’s about the same size as them, too.
“He’s just got to keep playing like he is, the all-time leading tackler at Michigan, that’s pretty good,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of what Demens needs to do to make the team. “He’s another guy that somebody said he couldn’t run fast enough but he made every tackle at Michigan. He’s slimmed down, he looks fantastic.
“Right now he’s pushing the other two guys.”
It would be quite a rise for Demens from undrafted rookie to playing a key role in the team’s defense, but that’s sometimes how it works out in the NFL. The 24-year-old has been given an opportunity, and it appears he’s doing a good job of taking advantage of it.
However, while Demens is aware of Arians’ comments, he knows that does not mean he’s arrived.
“It’s definitely a good thing, but I’m not too worried about my name being out there,” he said. “As long as I’m here doing what I’m supposed to be doing and making a name for myself, helping my team out and making this roster. That’s what I’m concerned about.”