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Cardinals’ Robert Nkemdiche has a ‘clean slate’ with new coaching staff

Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche stands on the sidelines against the Oakland Raiders during the second half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 20-10. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The new era under head coach Steve Wilks presents a fresh start for one of the Arizona Cardinals’ former first-round draft picks.

Now entering his third season, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche has been plagued by injuries throughout his short career. The former Ole Miss star only appeared in five games during his rookie year, as a nagging ankle injury kept him out most of the season.

Before his injury, Nkemdiche was a force for the Cardinals in the preseason, bullying offensive lineman both in practice and those on opposing teams.

He replicated his dominance during the 2017 preseason before a calf strain sidelined the rising star. He would, however, appear in 12 games for the Cardinals during the regular season, recording 11 tackles.

With a new coaching staff comes a new opportunity for Nkemdiche to turn the page on his career, something that Cardinals defensive line coach Don Johnson is looking forward to ahead of the new season.

“We are going to start from scratch so he’s got a clean slate,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “But, he’s got to stay on track.”

Johnson has been a defensive line coach in the NFL since 2005 when he was with the Chicago Bears. His most recent stint was with the San Diego Chargers from 2009-15, where he and Wilks were co-workers for three seasons.

He is confident in his ability to provide Nkemdiche and the rest of the Cardinals’ defensive line with the resources to be successful.

Nkemdiche possesses the strength and size to compete on every down.

He showed that ability in flashes, with one notable example. Nkemdiche scooped up an Eli Manning fumble and ran 22 yards for a touchdown in Arizona’s 23-0 Week 16 win over the New York Giants.

But what will it take to replicate this type of performance on a consistent basis?

Cardinals defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said in January that Nkemdiche’s development was apart of the process for the new staff.

“In the little bit of film that I’ve observed and watched, he’s obviously, at times, jumped off the tape,” Holcomb said. “He’s got some ability. That’s something that when we get into Phase 1 and Phase 2, we’re going to sit down and discuss some things and find out exactly what makes him tick.”

Despite being prone to injuries in the first two seasons of his career, Nkemdiche has the ability to become an immediate impact along a talented defensive front.

Johnson said the staff will soon start to evaluate all of the players, giving Nkemdiche the opportunity to leave a lasting impression on his new coaches.

“It will be a great evaluation process,” Johnson said. “The window of opportunity is open for him.”

98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Mike Jurecki contributed to this report.

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