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Cardinals DT Robert Nkemdiche: ‘I want to be the best me’

DL Robert Nkemdiche during an OTA practice May 24. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Disruptive.

That’s the one word Arizona Cardinals coaches and teammates have consistently used to describe second-year defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche thus far in training camp.

Nkemdiche first impressed in shells, and then he carried over his effort and performance once the pads were put on Monday.

It’s good to hear and see for those in attendance at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Not much was heard or seen from Nkemdiche last season. He played only 89 snaps over five games, recording three total tackles, a pass defensed, one quarterback hit and one quarterback pressure; numbers that fell well short of expectations for a first-round draft pick.

“I’m not really paying attention to that,” he said, referring to the positive press. “I just want to keep getting better because there’s a lot of things that I’ve done on tape that’s not my standards. I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on outside. I just pay attention to my (position) room and what’s out there and just keep trying to get better at the things my coach is telling me to get better at.”

And right now, that’s focusing on technique and learning the defensive assignments. Both, according to Nkemdiche, will prevent him from being hesitant on the field. The 22-year-old wants to react, not think once the ball is snapped.

“It’s a lot better when you can play with understanding what you have to do and how the defense actually works because football is a game of inches, so one inch can make you behind the play,” he said Thursday. “You want to make sure you’re on top of what you want to do technique-wise. There’s never a place of complacency for technique. There’s always ways to get better.”

And again, thus far, the improvement has been noticeable, by those to whom it matters the most.

“Oh my gosh; he’s learning it and he’s getting it down and he’s a stud,” right guard Evan Boehm told Burns & Gambo on 98.7 FM, Arizona’s Sports Station this week. “That’s the type of guy you want to go against in practice because he’s got a motor that just doesn’t stop. He’s strong, physical, fast. He’s got the qualities to be that dude for us here on the defensive line.”

The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Boehm matches up daily with Nkemdiche, who is listed at 6-foot-4, 296 pounds. Their battles have become almost appointment viewing.

“It goes back and forth, back and forth,” Boehm said. “Some days he’ll get me, some days I’ll get him. It’s fun going out there and competing against Rob.”

Nkemdiche called his 2016 season a learning lesson; though to be fair, his year was slowed by an ankle sprain, first at the start of training camp and then again late in the season.

Now healthy, and getting the reps he missed a year ago, Nkemdiche is once again facing expectations.

The Cardinals need Nkemdiche, whom they selected with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, especially given the free-agent departure of Calais Campbell.

How hungry is he?

“Very, man,” Nkemdiche said. “I want to be the best me. I know what the best me can look, so that’s what my vision is looking like and every day when step on the field, when I’m off the field I want to work towards that.”

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