GLENDALE, Ariz. — Asked to rate his level of enthusiasm that training camp was ending, Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell smiled.
“The highest level, the highest level of enthusiasm,” he said, drawing laughs from reporters. “Training camp has been, it’s been fun, but I’m excited for it to end and get into playing games that really matter and count.”
Asked to rate his level of motivation for the season ahead, given all the expectations, both outside and inside the locker room, and Campbell turned serious.
“I know how rare it is to have an opportunity to really win a championship, and so my only motivation is doing everything possible to make sure that we capitalize on the opportunity,” he said. “You play this game long enough, this is my ninth year. We’ve only had a couple of opportunities, and really I feel like this team has the best opportunity out of any of them I’ve been a part of.”
This is a big season for Campbell, the longest tenured Cardinals defensive player; and not just for the reasons already stated.
Campbell, who turns 30 next week, is entering the final year of a five-year, $55 million dollar contract signed in 2012 that included $31 million guaranteed.
“I take it one day at a time. That’s something I can’t control,” he said, dismissing the idea his future beyond this season may serve as a distraction. “The only thing I can control in that aspect is playing football the best I can and leave it on the field, so I let me agent worry about all that good stuff and I just play football.”
Last season, Campbell earned his second straight Pro Bowl nod after starting all 16 games for the third time in his career, and he led the D-line with 68 tackles. He also tied for the team lead with 17 tackles for loss and finished second with five sacks. He also recorded a team-high 15 quarterback hits, 13 quarterback pressures, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery.
Campbell expects more from himself in 2016.
“I want this to be my most dominant year. I would like to dominate for four quarters every game. I want to be the most dominant player on the field every time I’m out there. It’s just whatever it takes to get my name in this ring up here, that’s the ultimate goal,” he said recently on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Off The Edge with B-Train, referring to the Cardinals Ring of Honor at University of Phoenix Stadium.
“I have a lot of respect for every one of my teammates and I want to lay it on the line for them every time I’m out there.”
Whether or not that’s been true in the three seasons Campbell has played under head coach Bruce Arians is up for debate. Or perhaps there is no debate.
Campbell’s effort has been questioned at times — actually, several times, really — by Arians, who feels the 6-foot-8, 300-pound former second-round pick disappears too often in games regardless of the double teams he may face.
“I expect a dominating player every week,” Arians said, “which he’s capable of being — especially with the guys around him, with Corey (Peters) back and Chandler (Jones) in the mix, and Frostee (Rucker) and everybody else over there. I expect a dominating player that shows up in the stat sheet every week big.”
Considering the aforementioned talent, as well as the continuing development of a Markus Golden, Campbell should be able to roam a bit more freely inside; in other words, not face as much traffic between him and the ball carrier.
“Any time you can get a lot of different guys who are very capable of rushing the passer, it makes it hard because you have to pick your poison which one you’re going to stop this week,” Campbell said.
One would think that if Campbell has another successful season, then so, too, will the Cardinals and vice versa.
Individual accomplishments aside, Campbell made it clear this week that his top priority and No. 1 focus this season is helping deliver a Super Bowl title to the team that drafted him in 2008.
“It’s going to be hard work. It’s not going to be easy,” he said. “Every team that’s won a championship, they had to earn it every week. We’re not afraid of the hard work, though. We’re going to go out there and play our best game and leave it on the field, and even when things go wrong, just got to stay together and continue to fight because it’s a long season.”