GLENDALE, Ariz. – As a head coach, especially one with an offensive mind, Bruce Arians often will wait until he watches that day’s film, either game or practice, before speaking too in-depth in how the Arizona Cardinals looked on defense.
Of course, there are exceptions.
For one, it’s been hard not to notice safety Tyrann Mathieu, who in the past week or so in training camp has had his hands on a number of balls, often resulting in interceptions.
The other player on that side of the line of scrimmage to catch Arians’ eye seemingly on a daily basis has been defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche.
“(He) had a really good practice from what I saw because he was in our backfield all the time,” Arians said, referring to Saturday’s work on the grass fields just south of University of Phoenix Stadium.
Two days earlier Arians had called Nkemdiche “very disruptive” against the Dallas Cowboys in the Hall of Fame Game.
“It is what it is,” Nkemdiche said about being praised. “Just move forward. Come back to practice I got to do it again, come back to practice I got to do it again. It’s a rigorous process.”
Now don’t be mistaken, it’s not as if Nkemdiche doesn’t like having nice things said about him.
“Although you have to have self-confidence, it helps when you have other people around you that believe you, especially that’s people that’s your family. It makes a difference,” he said.
And it beats the alternative.
Several times last season Nkemdiche, the former first-round draft pick, found himself on the opposite spectrum of Arians’ comments.
“You know some people are going to speak truth and he’s one of those guys,” Nkemdiche said.
Though only credited with one tackle in the preseason opener, Nkemdiche made his presence felt often. On the Cowboys second possession, he blew up a running play by forcing Darren McFadden to reverse course right into the waiting arms of linebacker Ironhead Gallon who dropped McFadden for a four-yard loss. Later in the half, Nkemdiche pressured quarterback Kellen Moore.
For his efforts, playing 23 snaps on defense, Nkemdiche received an overall grade of 82.8 from Pro Football Focus.
Again, the praise means very little.
“You look at the film (and) you should be your biggest critic,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to have a coach tell you what you did right or wrong because you should know already.”
Nkemdiche, who a year ago at this time was in a walking boot with a high ankle sprain, prefers to self-critique: Wake up every morning, look in the mirror and ask what more he can do rather than wait to being told.
It’s something he said he’s always done “because if you’re trying to play for somebody else you’re not really going to get results. If you know what you’re supposed to do and you’re a self-critic and you know if you could’ve did better and the things that you did good and the things that you did worse, that will help you succeed.”
The Cardinals need Nkemdiche, among others, to succeed in 2017.
Despite losing Calais Campbell, leaving a huge hole up front, the team did not address the defensive line either in free agency or the draft. They have confidence in the eight players remaining, especially Nkemdiche, to fill Campbell’s 6-foot-8 void.
“He’s right where he should be,” Arians said of Nkemdiche’s progress.
At this rate, it’s going to be hard to keep Nkemdiche off the field once the season begins.
The Cardinals like to rotate their defensive linemen. It keeps them fresh. And right now, Nkemdiche finds himself in rotation behind projected starters Josh Mauro, Corey Peters and Frostee Rucker.
“I don’t really pay attention to the depth chart because whenever my number is called I know what I’m going to do with that moment. I pay attention to moments,” Nkemdiche said. “Whenever my name is called or number, I make sure, ‘Ok, this is what they do at this moment.’ Pay attention to this one play.”
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