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Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche talks with the media following training camp Aug. 22. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)
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Arizona Cardinals DT Robert Nkemdiche returns to ‘football mode’

Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche talks with the media following training camp Aug. 22. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It wasn’t much, but considering Arizona Cardinals rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche hadn’t done anything thus far in training camp, it was a start.

Nkemdiche participated in individual drills during the first hour of practice on Monday before retreating back to the locker room for more rehab work on his injured ankle.

“It felt good today,” he said. “It felt good being back out there with my teammates and just feeling the energy again of being in pads. It feels good to be back in a football mode.”

Nkemdiche was limited to drills within his position group. In other words, no 1-on-1 work against offensive linemen. That will come later, perhaps Wednesday, following Tuesday’s off day.

The plan, according to Nkemdiche, is to take things slowly, building strength and getting a full range of motion back in the ankle.

“Just really getting it back used to those sharp movements and those explosive movements and things like that,” he said. “I’m just taking it day-by-day and listening to (head athletic trainer Tom Reed) and going with the flow.”

The good news is Nkemdiche didn’t report much soreness when he met with reporters roughly 90 minutes following his first action of camp.

Nkemdiche hurt the ankle during the Cardinals’ quarterbacks school held prior to the start of camp for first-year players at University of Phoenix Stadium. He was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain, which cost him three weeks of work plus two preseason games.

“It sucks,” he said. “Just being out and watching your teammates grind through training camp and you want to be out there helping them. A couple of d-linemen went down and I want to be out there. Seeing all the guys take all the reps, you work so hard you want to be out there and join them, but you got to take it day-by-day and be calm and be patient.”

The Cardinals drafted Nkemdiche with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft as the sixth defensive lineman selected.

A two-time first-team All-SEC honoree and two-time second-team All-America pick while at Mississippi, Nkemdiche is expected to be a major contributor this season, even within a deep defensive line position group.

“I’m confident,” he said, referring to his potential impact this season. “Anything to help the team as they need me to. Just play my part and play my role, that’s what I want to do. Whatever that is, it’s what it’s going to be.”

The Cardinals made improving their pass rush a top priority in the offseason and believe Nkemdiche, listed at 6-foot-4 and 296 pounds, can assist in adding more pressure to the quarterback this season.

Nkemdiche recorded three sacks and seven tackles for loss last season at Ole Miss.

“It doesn’t take much time,” head coach Bruce Arians said when asked about the time Nkemdiche may need to catch up to his teammates. “He’s been in all the meetings, and he should know what gap to get in.”

While Nkemdiche has missed a ton of physical reps, he’s not missed a single mental rep, paying close attention in film breakdown.

“Mental is the best part, is the strongest part right now,” he said, smiling.

Depending on how Nkemdiche progresses the rest of the week, there is a chance he could see some playing time at Houston on Sunday. If not, then certainly in the preseason finale against Denver, leaving him more than enough to be game-ready Week 1.

“I can’t wait,” he said. “I’ve been itching for a couple of weeks now and they need to tell me to chill. These injuries are no joke, so just really be patient with it and the right time will come. I can’t wait. I’ve been itching to get out there, still itching to hit.”

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