Monthly Archives: June 2017

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I actually don’t think the Arizona Cardinals losing Calais Campbell to free agency will have as big of an impact as it could. That’s not saying his absence won’t be felt; it’ll leave a major void in the defense, and not just because he’s 6-foot-8. If the Cardinals didn’t have two dominant outside pass-rushers as they do in Markus Golden and Chandler Jones, then, yes, I’d say losing Campbell would have the biggest impact on next season because opposing offenses would have one less pass-rusher to worry about and could focus their attention on one side of the defensive line.

But with Jones and Golden on either side of the line, losing Campbell won’t be felt as much, especially if Robert Nkemdiche begins playing as the Cardinals expect him to. As long as the Cardinals can get pressure off the edge, the interior pass-rushers could reap the rewards. Campbell broke out for eight sacks in 2016 because he wasn’t double-teamed as much with offensive lines paying so much attention to Jones and Golden. As long as those two continue to play at high, productive levels, Arizona’s interior pass-rushers – Nkemdiche, Frostee Rucker, Rodney Gunter, Ed Stinson and Josh Mauro — will continue seeing one-on-one blockers, which makes their life all the easier.

But if Nkemdiche doesn’t play like the first-round pick he was in 2016, the Cardinals’ defensive line could be in trouble. Rucker will be steady all season and Gunter will be solid, but Nkemdiche has the most talent on that line. If he doesn’t use it, Arizona’s interior pass rush could struggle.

Where I think Campbell’s presence will be missed is in the Cardinals’ locker room. He was a steadying force, someone who was even-keeled and a leader. He commanded a lot of respect from teammates and was the type of player any franchise would want to represent it in public.

However, I think the biggest question for 2017 will be how the veterans keep the locker room in line, something that was an issue last season. Too many of the younger players didn’t use the older players as mentors and did their own thing to an extent. That was one reason why the Cardinals pursued veterans in free agency, particularly Karlos Dansby. Getting a locker-room presence like him will fill the void left by Campbell’s departure and help change the culture of the locker room yet again.

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TEMPE, Ariz. — When an offensive lineman with the size, smarts and potential of Will Holden is available in the NFL Draft, it makes for a relatively easy decision.

The Arizona Cardinals drafted Holden in the fifth round, adding another tackle to their offensive line room. The difference between Holden and the others, however, is he could end up being the long-term replacement at right tackle whenever Jared Veldheer’s time in Arizona comes to an end. Holden is 6-foot-7 — the same height as Veldheer — and 312 pounds. He graduated from Vanderbilt in December. And with some time in the weight room, Holden could find himself competing for a starting job in the future.
Will Holden could be the long-term replacement for Jared Veldheer and may even challenge for playing time on the Cardinals offensive line as a rookie. Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Where he fits: While Veldheer and D.J. Humphries occupy the two starting tackle positions, Holden won’t likely see time on the first team unless an injury forces him into the lineup. In the meantime, he’ll try to compete for a job in the rotation against a crowded field of tackles that currently numbers four, aside from the two starters. Holden could play his way into the coveted swing-tackle role, which would mean he’d dress on game days. A background that includes playing right guard as well as left could give him an advantage against the other offensive linemen.

What he said: “They told me they want me to play tackle,” Holden said. “They have me slotted as a tackle, which will be nice. But I am ready to get in there and compete for a job whether that is at tackle or guard.”

What they said: “Yeah, I think that he is one of those guys that, is he ideally a left tackle? What is ideal?” asked general manager Steve Keim. “A guy that has rare natural knee bend, length and athleticism. Are either of those guys [Holden or Veldheer] that? No, but they are good technicians and they understand how to get by whatever limitations they have so they can play left and they can play right. They can also move inside if they have to, that may be a good comparison.”

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eam do I want to sign with so I have the chance to start?’” Vaccaro said. “And Arizona had him dropping a little bit (into pass coverage). He’s not an outside ‘backer. He’s a true 4-3 end, and that’s what we’re having him do. So it ended up being a dream-like fit for him.”

It’s been the same type of fit on a personal level, said Vaccaro, who quickly bonded with Okafor after they went to Texas in the same recruiting class — then became two of the few who “lasted.”

“We’re the only ones who had enough up here to realize the big picture in the end,” Vaccaro said as he pointed to his head. “Alex comes from a good family. He’s a great person. I realized right when I got to Texas that this is a guy I need to stick with.”

Flash forward to now, and Vaccaro said, “It’s great. People don’t understand the magnitude. … It just makes you want to smile.

“Just to line up next to your friend during the national anthem in the National Football League, that does not happen, ever, really,” Vaccaro said. “The percentage to be in the NFL is already low. To play with your best friends or people you played with your whole life is probably zero, basically.”

Okafor, who was a fourth-round draft pick in 2013, spoke highly of his time in “AZ” and said he didn’t necessarily think he was misused — just that he has more to offer after his snaps decreased in the past two years while he battled toe and biceps injuries.
“I did what I love. I mean, I love to rush the passer, and at AZ I came in on passing downs … but I just feel like I’m more than that,” Okafor said. “I feel like I’m a starter in this league, and I have an opportunity to do that out here.”

The Saints parted ways with their top two weak-side defensive ends from last year, Paul Kruger and Kasim Edebali. They didn’t sign any other high-profile free agents, and they didn’t draft any defensive ends until the end of Round 3.

However, Okafor will still compete with former second-round pick Hau’oli Kikaha (who is returning from an ACL injury), veteran Darryl Tapp, Obum Gwacham and rookies Trey Hendrickson and Al-Quadin Muhammad, among others.

“It’s just a fresh start and a great opportunity,” Okafor said. “I’ve been that guy before, and I know I can do that here. So it’s just getting back to what I do.”

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Robert Nkemdiche had a season to forget in 2016.

The Cardinals selected the defensive lineman out of Ole Miss with the 29th overall pick, but Nkemdiche only saw the field in five games and registered just three tackles on the entire season. The one headline the rookie made was when his coach Bruce Arians called him out for a lack of “maturity.”

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One year later, Nkemdiche is back at the Cardinals’ facility, looking to right whatever wrongs derailed his first season as a professional athlete.

“It’s staying on the path of what I am doing, staying focused, trying to be as pinpoint perfect, not being on the [mental error] sheet and not making minute mistakes,” Nkemdiche said to the team’s website of his mentality entering 2017. “Keep working hard, take it day by day.”

According to those immediately surrounding Nkemdiche, the end has come into organized team activities with a different attitude toward the game.

Veteran defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said of the second-year pro, “He’s changed. For the good. He’s changed.

“I’m very proud of him. I’m not going to tell him to his face yet, but toward the end of training camp, I’ll probably tell him. Because I know he’s trying to become a dominant player. He’s trying to step up and make his name and make a role for himself, and that’s all you can ask of him.”
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Nkemdiche’s defensive line coach, Brenston Buckner, was equally optimistic, but cautioned that attitude improvements in May don’t automatically translate to the regular season.

“People want football to be microwavable, Buckner explained. “Football is not microwavable, especially on the defensive line.”

The coach continued: “I told him, ‘Robert, you don’t have to be anything but the best Robert Nkemdiche you can be, and I’m cool with that. If you give me 100 percent of Robert Nkemdiche — not what people expect you to be — give me what you can give me, your honest 100 percent, I’m going to be cool.'”

Arizona’s players and staff can be patient with Nkemdiche now, as we’re in the pigskin doldrums of May. But come September, the Cardinals will be relying on the lineman to fill some massive shoes, literally. The hole left by Calais Campbell on the Cardinals’ three-man defensive line is notable and one that Nkemdiche, as a former first-rounder, is expected to occupy.

If Nkemdiche fails to get his game or his work ethic right by the season’s dawn, then the Cardinals will have to reckon with yet another failed first-round selection. But all indications are, as of now, that the end will get a fresh start in 2017.