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Confident J.J. Nelson Starts Year Two

Wide receiver's speed can only be helped as his understanding of playbook increases


Cardinals wide receiver J.J. Nelson makes a catch during OTAs.

J.J. Nelson again caught a long bomb during an OTA Tuesday, the type of play coach Bruce Arians said the second-year wide receiver had been making once or twice daily as the Cardinals work this offseason.

Afterward, as the media converged on Nelson, teammate John Brown smiled from a couple of locker stalls down. "Famous li'l dog," Brown said with a grin.

Nelson shook it off. He isn't exactly seeking attention. But it figures to be difficult not to draw some if he builds on the home-run plays that exemplified his rookie season. Nelson had just 11 catches last year, but they went for a whopping 27.2 yards per reception.

Arians loves to take his shots on offense. And Nelson is a prime weapon with which to do it – especially in Year Two in the NFL.

"I feel like I am confident just going out there knowing what I have to do," Nelson said. "(I know) what I bring to the team, basically knowing my job."

That's crucial for any player, but especially players who feature their speed. Nelson, who ran a 4.28 at the Scouting combine in February of 2015, is certainly that.

"If a speed guy is thinking, he's not fast," Arians said. "You don't want them thinking. Right now those guys (at receiver) are playing really, really fast and those young DBs are thinking and they're not playing fast."

Nelson has benefitted in going against inexperienced defensive backs this offseason, but his improvement has gone beyond that. A key to moving forward in training camp will be his explosiveness from the line of scrimmage, where teams will likely use press coverage to mess with

his timing – press coverage defenders cannot use in the summer work.

Nelson said getting off the line is part of his workload. It would help if he could bulk up at least a little. His 5-foot-10 frame remains thin, around 160 pounds.

"He's catching the ball extremely well, getting a little bit stronger," Arians said. "He might be a buck-61 now. We're going to try and get four more pounds on him. That's like 20 on me."

A jump in a receiver's second year isn't uncommon. That's what Brown did last offseason, leading into his first 1,000-yard campaign. So much is thrown at a receiver as a rookie, Brown said. By the first full offseason, much has been digested already, and studying becomes that much deeper "so you can play faster," Brown added.

That's where Nelson is for the Cards. Arians often put Nelson "in positions to be great and not to think" as a rookie, moves that Nelson appreciated. That's not necessary anymore, Nelson said. He will still be a deep threat – that's not going to change – but if Brown or Michael Floyd need a break in the team's three-receiver sets, he can also fill in there.

"I'm noticing I am not thinking," Nelson said, although in this case, it's in a good way.

"I know what I am doing now."

Images from Tuesday's offseason work

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