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Patience Needed More Than Ever With Rookies

Posted Mar 1, 2017

Notes: Humphries, Nkemdiche started slowly; Backup RB options; Camp Tackling

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians speaks at the NFL Scouting combine on Wednesday in Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS -- As the NFL Scouting combine puts the focus on draft prospects this week, fans will get whipped into a frenzy dreaming of impact additions.

Rookies can still shoot to stardom, as the Cowboys’ duo of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott proved a year ago, but more and more, the learning curve has become steeper for even the best of prospects. As simplified playbooks overtake college football, the jump in mental demands has made the move to the NFL a bigger challenge.

The Cardinals know this well. In each of the past two years, their first-round draft pick made a negligible impact as a rookie. Tackle D.J. Humphries blossomed in his second season, and coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday from the combine he expects a similar jump from defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche in Year 2.

But after so much hype is placed upon first-rounders, a lack of instant gratification is tough to accept.

“Your No. 1 pick is not what it used to be,” Arians said. “Tony Boselli ain’t coming out now – because he’s a in a different offense – to plug in at left tackle right away. Or anybody else. There’s so much more teaching involved with these younger players now. Much greater athletes, but much more teaching on our part.”

General Manager Steve Keim admitted it’s tough to see a first-round choice sit as a rookie, because his name is linked to that player. But Humphries’ success has helped him trust his evaluations, even if they take a little bit more time to bear fruit.

“Everybody right now wants to see instant success, and I get that,” Keim said. “That’s just the way the league is driven these days. There’s a reality to it, and it’s learning how to become a pro. Learning how to work, how to study tape, how to learn and process information. Those things are so critical, and that’s what makes good players great. All those little things.”

Arians doesn’t begrudge college coaches for failing to prepare their players for the NFL.

“Their job is to win games,” Arians said. “I’d be doing the same damn thing if I was coaching in college with the 20-hour rule. I’d get the best athlete I could, put him back there (at quarterback) and spread it out.”

THE BACKUP RUNNING BACK SEARCH

Andre Ellington, Chris Johnson and Stepfan Taylor are all set to hit free agency next week, leaving a void on the running back depth chart behind star David Johnson. Kerwynn Williams ran the ball well at the end of last season and is an option as the No. 2 back, but Keim is also hoping to find a player who mirrors Johnson’s skill-set.

“The thing that we would like to do ideally is to find a guy who can do all those different things,” Keim said. “In terms of catching the football, being able to motion out of the backfield, play in the slot. David puts so much pressure on defenses because of the things he can do, in terms of the schematic mismatches. But there are very few players who, obviously, have David’s receiving skills. To find a back out there, whether it’s in the draft or free agency, is to me very important.”

Arians would like Chris Johnson to return, but the veteran is expected to search elsewhere for more playing time since David Johnson will get the bulk of the work.

CAMP TACKLING IS COMING

The Cardinals can open up training camp a week earlier than normal because they are playing in the Hall of Fame Game, and Arians is vowing to make a change. He thought missed tackles contributed to losses last season, and is going to risk more injuries to practice it more.

In the past, the Cardinals have only done tackling drills in goal-line scrimmage situations. Arians said he’s never had his players tackle in live situations before but will do so this year.

“We’re going to roll the dice and tackle more in training camp just to teach tackling,” Arians said. “We’ll do as much as we can with dummies and everything else full-speed, but we’re going to have to tackle each other a little bit.”

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