Defensive end Calais Campbell makes a move during a training camp practice.
Calais Campbell doesn't need an actual jump rope.
The idea of one works just fine.
His teammates laugh when they see his legs skipping to a beat only Campbell can hear, making sure his legs get off the ground faster and higher each time. But Campbell knows the more he skips the invisible rope, the better he's getting.
"In my mind I'm trying to get my feet right because that's the most important thing when you're in the middle of a play and you got a chance to win," Campbell said. "If you can just pick your feet up a little faster and turn the jets on a little quicker, that's the difference between a big play and an almost big play."
There were too many "almosts" last season. Campbell spent the offseason retooling his body to become lighter, quicker and more powerful, making sure there are more actual big plays under new coach Bruce Arians.
He lost weight, dropping into the 290-295 range. He did hours of defensive line and
hand-placement drills. When he wasn't partaking in the Cardinals' offseason conditioning program, he started doing CrossFit and went to Portland, Ore., to work with a mixed martial arts coach. There, Campbell worked on his endurance, balance and a striking mentality. And just about 10 days into wearing pads at training camp, his compatriots on the line can already see a bigger, slimmer, faster Campbell.
"He's got a lot of sacks and everything but I feel like he's now growing into the type of player he can be," nose tackle David Carter said. "He understands how he's athletic now. Last year he wasn't the most athletic guy and now he's more athletic this year. He's stronger this year. He can play inside more. He's better against the run. He's done a lot of growing in the offseason and he's taking more of the leadership role."
It could all add up to Campbell's first Pro Bowl appearance, but he'll be the first to say it's not a priority. Even so, another big year could land him in Hawaii. Campbell finished with 6½ sacks and 51 tackles in just 13 games last season. His new defensive coordinator, Todd Bowles, knows his 6-foot-8 defensive end has the talent. It's now about the little things.
"He's already a Pro Bowl-caliber player but he has to do the right thing within the scheme that makes everyone else better also," Bowles said. "I think he's been doing that thus far. Calais is an outstanding talent. He can play inside and outside. He's a grown man and a force to be reckoned with. We just have to continue to work on the fundamental parts of his game that allows him to do that."
In Bowles' new 3-4 difference, a primary goal is to get the down lineman in one-on-one situations. Under different guidance last year, Campbell was asked to occupy the two defenders that inevitably found him on most plays, in hopes of distracting them from linebackers breaking through the line.
That's fine and all but Campbell likes his odds against single coverage – even more now that he's quicker on his feet.
"If I'm a betting man, I bet on (defensive tackle Darnell) Dockett, myself and (nose tackle) Dan Williams in one-on-one matchups any day of the week," Campbell said. "I don't think anybody's going to ask for two. It's flattering to a degree but I'll take one. I'd rather beat them up a little bit."
Campbell's already seeing the dividends of an offseason of grinding. He can sense he's faster and if he wasn't already intimidating offensive linemen with his size, this season they'll have to deal with his speed.
"When he's a defensive end he's probably a little bit of a matchup nightmare for some guys just because of his length," guard Daryn Colledge said. "He looks like he's doing pretty well and it looks like they're going to give him an opportunity to do a little more."
In Campbell, coach Bruce Arians sees someone who's "as steady as they come."
Bowles sees potentially 12 sacks.
And Carter sees someone whose perfected imperfections could start him on the path to the Hall of Fame, Ring of Honor and even another Super Bowl. First, there's this season.
"I'm going to play at that level," Campbell said. "I'm going to approach every play the same and try to do something to help the team win. And I think by doing that hopefully, if that talent's there, which I think it will be, I can be a Pro Bowl player."