Dealing Cards: Sky is the limit for improving Robert Nkemdiche
May 26, 2017, 6:00 AM | Updated: 1:22 pm
(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)
TEMPE, Ariz. — Heading into the 2017 season, few Cardinals will be under as bright a spotlight as Robert Nkemdiche.
The team’s first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, he appeared in just five games as a rookie, collecting three tackles and one pass defensed.
While disappointing, an ankle injury he suffered in training camp set him back, and he struggled to crack a deep defensive line rotation once the games started.
His inability to get on the field had many questioning his work ethic, which at times was even brought up as a concern by his coaches. Ultimately, however, by the end of the season they said he had matured and still expect great things from the former No. 29 pick.
They are not the only ones.
“Of course,” Nkemdiche answered when asked if he notices himself improving.
The 22-year-old was at Steak 44 in support of the Arians Family Foundation Fundraiser, and he said his goal is to keep growing.
“The sky’s the limit for me and I know what I can do as a player and I want to keep that edge on me and keep it going day-by-day,” he said.
Whereas last season the Cardinals may not have needed much from Nkemdiche, things are different now. With Calais Campbell in Jacksonville, there is now a hole on the team’s defensive front.
Knowing that, Nkemdiche is aware how big this upcoming season is for him, even though it is only his second in the NFL.
According to Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the expectation of Nkemdiche is to play a bunch and play well.
“He’s playing extremely well,” he said after Wednesday’s OTA practice. “He jumped offsides twice today, but that’s probably the first time.
“He’s been playing extremely well and (we want him to) be the player we drafted, which he is. He is.”
Asked if Nkemdiche could replace Campbell, Arians said, “Oh hell yeah.”
Paying attention to details is the biggest difference, Nkemdiche said, adding that the biggest difference between his rookie year and now is that he truly gets what he must do in order to succeed. No one will know what kind of progress he has made until training camp and then when games begin, but for now Nkemdiche seems to be on the right track.
If nothing else, he understands where his career is at.
“I’ve got to prove to the coaches as much as I have to prove to myself,” he said.
And what’s that, exactly?
“What kind of player I can be, what I know I can be, what I’m supposed to be.”
Less time in OT
Last season the Cardinals were part of one of two ties the NFL produced, and no doubt their 6-6 bout with the Seattle Seahawks at least played a part in the league’s decision to shorten overtime from 15 minutes to 10.
While evidence points to it likely leading to more games without a victor, Arians has no issue with the change.
“I think it will effect the calling of the game a little bit,” he said. “People are worried about 10-minute drives — I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a 10-minute drive.”
Arians admitted he has probably seen a couple drives of that length, but added if a team gets the ball run on them for that kind of duration they “deserve to lose anyway.”
The coach believes the change has to do with safety, as he noted following the tie vs. Seattle, in which each team ran an obscene number of plays, they were unable to actually practice the following week.
Whether the shortened overtime period will lead to more ties, Arians said, is something the league probably understands. And while the game may be called a bit differently because of it, he is happy with the decision.
The shortening of overtime is not the only rule change Arians appreciates, as he agrees with the decision to be more lenient on celebrations.
“I’m happy with that,” Arians said. “I danced all the time when I scored touchdowns; I didn’t get many, but I danced my ass off when I got one.”
And at receiver
Not much was made of the Cardinals’ decision to sign receiver Aaron Dobson to a future contract in January, but as May nears its end the former New England Patriot seems to be making quite a name for himself.
On Tuesday, Cardinals QB Carson Palmer mentioned how Dobson has “had a great spring,” and on Wednesday Arians said he had never been around a receiver group with as many NFL-caliber players.
Dobson is a part of that, and while he knows he’s been playing well, he said he’s just trying to take things one day at a time while stringing good days together.
“There’s going to be highs and lows, so I’m just trying to keep it more on the high end,” he said. “Just come to play every day, make plays when they come to me and just keep moving forward.”
A 25-year-old former second-round pick, Dobson has caught 53 passes for 698 yards and four touchdowns in his career. His best season was his rookie one, when in 2013 he hauled in 37 passes for 519 yards and all of his scores.
He is excited to be in Arizona, where he said Arians and GM Steve Keim said he would have an opportunity to play.
“That’s all I really can ask for, so now I’m here and I’m just trying to make the most of it.”
Dobson understands how deep the team is at receiver, but says all it will do is make each player better. He likes the mix of skill sets, and while at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds he more or less fits the mold of a “big” receiver, he is confident he can fill whatever role is asked of him.
With his roster spot not necessarily a given, he pretty much has to. As he said, every opportunity he has to play in the NFL is a big one. In Arizona, making good on it means continuing to do what he has been.
“Just let them know that I can actually play, make plays when they come to me, learn my playbook and just keep moving forward,” he said.