Haason Reddick is seeing things. Not delusions, but formations.
In recent weeks, the Cardinals' second-year linebacker has peered over the line of scrimmage before a snap and felt an epiphany: I've defended this play before.
It gives Reddick an edge, allowing him to understand his responsibility and an offense's objective. It sounds like a small thing, but it is, in fact, a crucial step in his evolution.
"He's starting to really get it," defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said, "to understand how the pieces of the puzzle fit together."
Reddick was the Cardinals' first-round draft pick in 2017 because of his freakish athletic gifts. He was an athletic testing monster at the NFL Scouting combine, running faster and jumping higher than a human his size – 6-foot-1 and 235 pounds – should reasonably do.
There were flashes of success as a rookie, and Reddick was penciled in as a starting linebacker heading into 2018. However, he lost the job to veteran Josh Bynes in training camp because Reddick's athleticism was locked up by a mind that wouldn't let him play fast and free.
Reddick remained a little-used backup in the first four games, and while he admitted there was some concern as he rode the bench, it wasn't a full-blown panic.
It took Reddick time to transition from defensive back to defensive end at Temple, and he eventually blossomed into one of college football's best players. In the NFL, Reddick was going from defensive end to linebacker and felt like he could follow a similar trajectory.
"I know what I needed – more reps and more time," Reddick said.
Reddick has been a fixture in the starting lineup since Week 5, and while there has been inconsistency along the way, optimism abounds.
He had a standout game in Sunday's loss to the Lions, finishing with a team-high 11 tackles, two tackles for loss and a quarterback hit.
"I don't want to say that's Haason's best game up to date, but he made a lot of plays," coach Steve Wilks said. "He was flying around. He was physical and doing some great things."
Reddick earned an 80.3 mark from Pro Football Focus for the performance, his highest grade of the season. He was stout against the run and defended well in coverage, showing off the versatility that made him such a hot commodity in the draft.
The Cardinals do not have a great track record of hitting on first round picks in recent years, and there were early whispers that Reddick would join the underachievers. While the jury is still out, Reddick believes he is on the right path.
"I'm coming along and I feel like everything's clicking," Reddick said. "I'm going to be that guy soon. I'm going to be who I'm meant to be."
The Cardinals have one player from the 2017 draft – safety Budda Baker – who has established himself as a foundational building block on defense. Reddick aches to join him, and the more he grasps before each play, the easier it will be to envision it happening.
"I feel like I'm getting better," Reddick said. "My confidence, I feel better. The thing now is to keep going and turn myself into a star, a clear-cut, household name."
Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the Atlanta Falcons