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Miami Nice, But Calais Campbell Focused

Posted Dec 8, 2016

Veteran returns to play for first time since college, but playoffs are the mindset

Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell celebrates his strip-sack against Washington last week.

Calais Campbell visits Miami often – like when he went back earlier this fall to watch his beloved University of Miami Hurricanes play Florida State – but he hasn’t played there in a long time.

The last time, in fact, was during his last year as a Hurricane during the 2007 season, a few months before the Cardinals made him their second-round pick in the 2008 draft. Now he returns as a player, all these years later, as the Cardinals play the Dolphins this weekend.

“I love Miami, I had a great experience there, it was a big part of my life,” Campbell said, “so in theory I guess it should be a bigger game (to me).”

It’s not, at least for nostalgia’s sake.

Too many other things matter more to the veteran defensive tackle other than memories. The Cardinals head into their final four games of the regular season understanding they basically need a sweep to have a good chance to reach the postseason.

Campbell also understands these final four games could mean the final four the unrestricted-free-agent-to-be plays for the Cardinals – again, something that hasn’t happened since that last game as Hurricane all those years ago.

“The only thing I guess I can really say is, if it is my last year in Arizona – and I hope it isn’t – but if it is my last year here, I want to go out on top, giving everything I have,” Campbell said. “If we don’t get into the playoffs and these are my last four games, I will leave it all on the field and see what happens. Honestly, that will all take care of itself.

“I feel like the guys want me here, but I know it’s a business and it depends and all that stuff. What I do know is I have four games to play the best ball I can to make sure I leave the best legacy I can. If I can play here again, it’d awesome. But if I can play these four (games) and have an opportunity for a fifth, that’s the ultimate goal.”

No door has been closed on Campbell, who will turn 31 as the 2017 regular season gets started. But the open market beckons, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see some team come up with a rich offer that would go beyond the Cardinals’ budget.

But that’s the storyline for March. Campbell shrugs such consideration away, thinking more about the here and now.

“We’ve underachieved, to be frank,” Campbell said. “We are trying to go out and make good things happen. Personally, I want to do my part to make sure we win the game. I haven’t worried about how my season is going or how it could be going or anything else.”

Campbell’s roots with Miami go beyond his school days, when he was recruited out of Denver as a 225-pound “athlete” who fell in love with the campus on an unofficial visit. In January of 2015, Campbell endowed a $1.6 million football scholarship for the university, meant to underscore the need for an education and that not everyone who plays there will reach the NFL.

That hasn’t been a problem for Campbell, who has evolved into an annual Pro Bowler as he plays out the lucrative $55 million contract extension he signed in 2012.

Coach Bruce Arians has constantly pushed for Campbell to do more over the last couple of years, although Arians said Campbell has been “consistent” this season. Defensive coordinator James Bettcher agrees, calling Campbell “disruptive” and a key veteran leader when it comes to helping set up different defensive packages.

“He’s kind of the voice,” Bettcher said.

That’s what Campbell is aiming for. His big strip-sack of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins helped turn last week’s game as the Cardinals snapped a two-game losing streak. Watching Campbell on the sideline of any game, it isn’t infrequent to see him offer motivation to his defensive mates.

Time – whether it be for this season or the future – is running out.

“All good players, I feel like they have the mentality, if they have to put a team on their back, they will,” Campbell said.

“That’s the kind of mentality star players have to have, come up with clutch plays in clutch moments. We have no room for error.” 

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