TEMPE, Ariz. — A little less than one month ago Cardinals coach Bruce Arians joked that the team’s first-round pick, defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche out of Ole Miss, was perhaps playing a bit too hard for rookie mini-camp.
“He was killing people in walk-through and I had to slow him down; it’s a walk-through and he’s bench-pressing linemen already,” he said. “But yeah, he’s got great first-step quickness, all the things we thought we saw.”
Truthfully, the last month has not necessarily been the right time for the 29th overall pick in the draft to show his stuff. An imposing presence at 6-foot-4 and 296 pounds, he should be at his best when the pads are on and he is actually allowed to hit someone.
“You can get the job done, but you just can’t be as physical,” he said following Tuesday’s OTA practice, the first in the final week of such outings. “You can still make it work and work on technique, work on hand placement and work on moves.”
Arians said Nkemdiche is “doing well” so far, which is about all you should expect in terms of analysis given that Nkemdiche is not really allowed to do what he was drafted for. However, the 21-year-old said things are going great, noting he is taking things day-by-day as he gets used to his new playbook and teammates.
The playbook, actually, is the biggest challenge for the rookie, as he admitted it is a bit more complex than he anticipated.
“One time I came to see Coach Bettcher and on his board he had like 30 calls, and he said, ‘that’s what we’re going this week with,’ and I’m like, oh my God, I’m used to like 10, 10-12 plays. You really have to study.”
Nkemdiche said he has leaned on all of his fellow defensive linemen for help, adding they are all “great people” who want to see him succeed.
For that to happen, though, he said he needs to improve on the technical aspects of the game, like hand placement, hip flips and the pre-snap reads.
While there are certainly high expectations for Nkemdiche, he is like any rookie in that he may be talented, but there is a refinement his game will need before he can make the kind of impact people believe is in store.
Until then, though, he continues planning on using linemen as weights.
“Of course,” he said, with a smile. “Every day it’s my goal to be the most physical person on the field, and most aggressive, and bring the most energy.”
Even without pads, as is the case during OTAs?
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Regardless.”
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