Linebacker John Abraham speaks to the media Thursday after returning to the Cardinals.
In time, John Abraham said, he'll get back into shape and has confidence he'll be a "football giant" when he gets back on the field.
As for the personal issues that kept him away from training camp until Wednesday, the Cardinals' Pro Bowl linebacker believes he dealt with much more difficult times in his life.
"As a person I'm still the same guy," Abraham said following the team's afternoon practice. "It's just something I had to handle for myself. My mom had cancer, my grandfather died, there was a lot of stuff in my life hurt me more than this did. It's another bump in the road, but not as big of a hill as I have gone through."
The regular season begins in 25 days. Coach Bruce Arians said there is "no doubt" Abraham will be the starting outside linebacker on the weak side. His teammates emphasized they look forward to him returning to the locker room, and while Abraham spoke to the media for the first time, Darnell Dockett cleared his way through the group just to give Abraham a welcome-back embrace.
"I think the team is going to rally behind him similar to when they drafted me last year," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "They will be encouraging. He's already a great teammate. It's not hard to like him."
Abraham declined to be specific of why he had been absent, calling it "just personal stuff." He said it didn't have to do with the
DUI arrest he had in Georgia in late June.
"It wasn't as big as people think," Abraham said. "You know when the media gets hold of stuff, not trying to knock y'all, but they made it so different than it really was. It was just more handling personal stuff so I could have a clear mind when the season starts."
Abraham also said he never considered not returning to football.
"That would've been dumb as hell for me to do that," Abraham said. "Football has given a lot to me, the Cardinals have given a lot to me. A lot of people gave up on me after Atlanta let me go.
"I still need to get nine sacks to get (past Hall of famer Michael Strahan). I can't do that sitting on the couch."
Abraham had 11½ sacks to lead the Cardinals in 2013, and more importantly, played the run well. That part was unexpected, and while his every-down work came out of necessity after early season-ending injuries to Lorenzo Alexander, Sam Acho and Alex Okafor, it paid off for both Abraham – who got to the Pro Bowl – and the Cardinals.
Arians did not hesitate in saying Abraham will remain the starter. "He's never been out of those plans," Arians said.
Abraham said he won't rush back on to the practice field, not after his teammates have already been working for three weeks. He didn't want to speculate on his weight, although he admitted after eating a little too much candy he's bigger than he wants to be.
Abraham said he finished last season at 248 pounds, and like to get around that weight again. Arians said he doesn't expect
Abraham's every-down role to change, unless he gets tired and asks out of a play.
Getting in shape is less of a concern for Abraham than getting up to speed on the new defenses being used by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and working with his new teammates.
"John's like a freak of nature," defensive end Calais Campbell said. "He's one of those guys that can just line up and go. He's very blessed to have the physical attributes to be a great football player and he has great instincts. I don't think he needs much time to get ready. He's been doing this for a long time. He knows what he's doing."
Mathieu said working a player like Abraham back into the defense shouldn't be difficult, given that his personality meshes well with others. Arians did acknowledge Abraham will have a learning curve. The veteran often worked out at the team facility this offseason, but skipped almost all the on-field voluntary organized team activities.
He has been good in mentoring teammates in the art of the pass rush, however, and left a good impression with those around him.
"John gives a great vibe in the locker room, keeps it light, fun," Alexander said. "He brings a lot to the team on the field. I think a lot of guys lean on him for on the field things. It's just great to have him back and involved in the chemistry."
Abraham said he had no problem if Arians said he'd have to fight for his starting job, but said "they know when it's football season, I'm a football giant."
Now, he's back with his football team, which is the first step.
"Most athletes that deal with off the field issues, most of the time football is the only thing that can save them or channel most of their energy at," Mathieu said. "Football may be the only positive light in a person's life. Hopefully once he gets back into it he understands the ramifications of it and hopefully it makes him a better person off the field."
"We know he had to go through what he did to get back to here," Arians added. "We're all behind him. Now it's just about getting in shape."