Legacy talk: Cardinals DT Calais Campbell tackles the topic ahead of return to Miami

Dec 9, 2016, 6:00 AM | Updated: 11:13 am

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) talks with New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitz...

Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell (93) talks with New York Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (14) after an NFL football game, Monday, Oct. 17, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Cardinals won 28-3. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been nine years since defensive tackle Calais Campbell left the University of Miami for the NFL, and ultimately the Arizona Cardinals.

In those previous eight years, not once had the league’s schedule-makers seen fit to return him to the city where he made a name for himself as a two-time All-ACC selection.

That changes this season, specifically this Sunday, when the Cardinals visit the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, about a 30-minute drive north from the school Campbell attended from 2004-07.

“I’m excited about it. It’s kind of cool to be able to go down there and compete, but honestly, it’s been so long. This is my ninth year. This is nine years I’ve been away from Miami,” he said.

Campbell left quite the legacy at his alma mater.

After redshirting in 2004, he started 25 of 36 games played with 158 tackles, 19.5 sacks, 39 tackles for loss and 30 quarterback pressures. He earned all-conference honors after both his sophomore and junior seasons.

Campbell helped lead Miami to back-to-back bowl games, including a victory over Nevada in the 2006 MPC Computers Bowl.

“I had a great time in Miami. We played a lot of good football down there,” he said, “and I’m sure there are a lot of people who think highly of me down there still, at least I think highly of a lot of people down there myself still so I’m sure the feelings are mutual.”

Though he hasn’t played a game in Miami since the Cardinals drafted him in the second round (50th overall) in 2008, Campbell has been back several times, including last year when he donated $1.6 million, the largest gift from a former student-athlete in the school’s history.

Campbell expects to see several familiar faces in the stands on Sunday.

“It’s a big deal, though, just because it’s an important game for us, so my mindset is not more about going back to Miami, it’s more about just trying to lead the troops and find a way to get an opportunity to go to the playoffs,” he said.

At 5-6-1, the Cardinals will likely need to win out in order to reach the playoffs for a fourth straight season. Currently, the Cardinals sit 10th in the NFC, but they’re only one game out in the loss column from a top-six seeding.

“All that matters for me right now is just go out there and play the best game possible to help my team win this game,” Campbell said.

Through 12 games, Campbell has been one of the Cardinals better defenders.

“Calais has been very consistent, yes,” head coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday.

Hearing Arians say something nice about his 6-8, 300-pound defensive tackle has been rare in recent years. Because of his size, Campbell is expected to dominate every week, in Arians’ opinion.

And Campbell has dominated more times than not this season.

Though if you ask him how he’s performed, Campbell believes he “could be playing a lot better. I’ve missed some opportunities, but I tell you, I play hard, hard as I can every time I’m out there.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Campbell was the Cardinals’ highest-graded defensive player last week against Washington. He not only helped stop the run, but he got after Kirk Cousins with the strip-sack, four quarterback hits and one batted pass on 33 pass-rush snaps.

Overall, Campbell leads the team in both pressuring (18) and hitting (20) the quarterback, while his four sacks rank third-most.

Four games remain here in Campbell’s ninth NFL season. There most certainly will be a 10th, though it remains to be seen whether year 10 will be spent in Arizona. Campbell will be a free agent after the season.

“I’m leaving it all out there, you know? Giving it my all, that’s kind of the mentality,” he said this week. “Not knowing my future and all that good stuff, I definitely want to make sure there’s a good legacy left behind no matter what happens. But, honestly, I’m playing my heart out. I’ve always played as hard as I could every time I step on the football field.”

Campbell is in the last year of his contract, one that will have paid him $55 million over the past five seasons.

“I would love to be a Cardinal my whole career, and that’s the ultimate goal, but I understand the business side of things,” he said, “so whatever happens I’m going to make sure that I’m enjoying it and living it up as long as I can.”

Campbell wants to see his name atop the franchise career sacks list. He currently ranks third with 52.5, 14 away from passing Freddie Joe Nunn.

“That’s something I’ve always set my sights on,” he said.

To eclipse Nunn’s 66-sack mark would likely require Campbell to play a few more seasons in a Cardinals uniform. It’s fair to wonder whether he’ll be afforded that opportunity.

Campbell, who turned 30 in September, will be among 20-plus free agents the Cardinals need to address in the offseason, if not before.

“I feel like I’m wanted around here. We’ll see what happens. But honestly, I think they know who they have in a player, as a guy in the locker room. I go out there, I give it my all every time I’m on the football field. Money and all that—it is motivating. I can’t say it’s not motivating. It is motivating, but I’ve made good money throughout my career, at least the last five years, and I continue to play as hard as I can,” he said.

“If I do get an extension, I won’t change. I’m going to be the same guy I’ve always been. When I’m on the football field, I’m going to give it my all. In the community, I’m going to be the best I can to be a good role model and in the locker room, I’ll be a big brother because I guess I’m the old guy now so I’ll be a big brother.”

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