TEMPE, Ariz. — Two years removed from his Arizona State playing days, cornerback Robert Nelson, Jr. is never far from his alma mater.
That’s true both figuratively and literally.
Wearing his Sun Devils jacket from the 2013 Holiday Bowl, Nelson stood in front of his locker addressing reporters after his first practice as a full-fledged member of the Arizona Cardinals Wednesday, the pro team just down the road from ASU.
Nelson was elevated from the practice squad to the active roster.
“Just a blessing; I give it all to God,” he said. “That’s a dream come true; just being in a great place like Arizona and for these guys to have faith in me and bring me in to be able to play where I went to college, that’s just a great feeling.”
Nelson signed with the Cardinals back in September after spending the preseason with Cleveland, which ended due to a hamstring injury.
“It was tough,” said Nelson, who joined the Browns as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2014. “That was probably the toughest point in my professional career because I thought it was over. I just had to pray about it. I prayed about and I said, ‘God, if it’s meant for me to go out there (to Arizona) then just show me the way, and I’m going to follow you.’ That’s what he did. It was hard; just grinding, starting all over again, building relationships with these guys, coaches and the whole staff here.
“I’m just overwhelmed right now because my dreams continue to come true through God, I really believe that.”
A spot on the Cardinals’ active roster became available when the team waived/injured cornerback Cariel Brooks, who suffered a “real high ankle sprain” according to head coach Bruce Arians.
“I hate for Brooksie to get hurt. He was a young player that was coming on,” Arians said, and then turning his attention to Nelson. “He’s got some good coverage skills. He’s got good speed, so it’s a matter of learning the defense and whether or not he’s active or not. He was the next man up in that rotation.”
Nelson, 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, becomes the Cardinals’ fourth cornerback, a small number but manageable due to the versatility of the others in the secondary room.
Nelson said he’s leaned heavily on veterans Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers and Justin Bethel.
“You learn from those guys every day,” he said. “They took me under their wing, accepted me and I’m just thankful for that. They just teach me and they encourage me every day to go hard.”
Nelson played seven games last season for the Browns. His first game with the Cardinals comes against NFC West-rival Seattle.
That’s quite the welcome.
“I understand. I understand,” he said, the phrase repeated a second time with his eyes wide open and a smile across his face. “I’m just staying in my lane, letting these guys show me the ropes and not trying to do too much; just letting these guys show me the steps I need to take and just follow their lead.”
At ASU, Nelson was one of the leaders.
During his two seasons with the Sun Devils, Nelson recorded 73 tackles and nine interceptions in 27 games.
“I go back up there every day. I talk to those guys every day,” he said, specifically mentioning head coach Todd Graham and defensive backs coach Chris Ball. “It’s tough to see them lose like that (this season) because the guys we had there, we built something special and for them to lose like that, it hurts because I still feel a part of it.”
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