As a Duke grad, Cardinals OLB Victor Dimukeje expected to be fast learner
When you graduate early from Duke with an evolutionary anthropology degree, med school dreams and a past history of catching on quickly, you’re assumed to be a smart dude with a sharp learning curve.
Arizona Cardinals rookie Victor Dimukeje enters rookie minicamp at the end of the week knowing that Chandler Jones and Markus Golden will be starting ahead of him on the depth chart at outside linebacker.
But if stereotypes about Duke graduates with unique academic interests are true, then don’t count out that the 2021 sixth-round draft pick could show enough to earn early playing time in defensive coordinator Vance Joseph’s blitz-heavy scheme.
“Just the opportunity to attend Duke … it’s a challenging place as a football player and as an academic student,” Dimukeje said Tuesday. “It was definitely like a grind for me. I take it as a compliment when coaches expect me to pick up stuff faster.”
Dimukeje became a starter for the Blue Devils his freshman year and piled up 49 starts in his four college seasons. A defensive end in college, he posted 16 sacks and three forced fumbles over his final two seasons at Duke.
Now in a 3-4 defense and expected to play outside linebacker, the 6-foot-2, 262-pound pass rusher will have quite a bit of competition once the full Cardinals team meets up. Among those behind Jones and Golden on the depth chart are veteran Devon Kennard and 2020 second-leading sack man Dennis Gardeck — though Gardeck is coming off an ACL injury.
“I’ve actually watched (Jones) a lot since I started playing football,” Dimukeje said. “Just having a guy, an older guy, a vet like that that you can learn from and play with, that’s a huge deal. I’m ready to get to Arizona, get to work from him, try to watch him, watch how he do.”
Cardinals general manager Steve Keim compared Dimukeje to the similarly undersized Golden after the linebacker was drafted 210th overall. Keim said Dimukeje’s motor, long arms and “niftiness” impressed Arizona’s scouting department.
Dimukeje said that learning the entirety of a defensive scheme helped him make a near-immediate impression when his Duke career began. Learning his job and what the linebackers and safeties behind him are assigned to do can help him pick up things more quickly in the NFL, he said.
Like different positions work in concert with one another to play a scheme, athletes’ body parts work with one another to perform a movement. That was an area of focus for Dimukeje in getting his evolutionary anthropology degree a semester early.
“I’ve always been into medicine. My whole family — my mom’s a nurse, my sister’s a nurse,” the pass rusher said before crediting his family’s work ethic. “So I was kind of interested in the physical therapy aspect, the kinesiology. I chose to do that because I was hoping to go to med school at some time.
“That major kind of helps me know more about the body — it consists of anatomy, osteology. So it helps me know what body parts I’m working in the weight room, when I’m stretching, stuff like that.”
So, yes, evolutionary anthropology seems more applicable to NFL football than you might think. Meanwhile, Dimukeje’s med school dreams have been put on hold.
“That was one of my goals going into college,” Dimukeje said. “Right now, I’m just focused on football, playing as long as possible.”
His doctorate in taking down quarterbacks begins Friday.