Rookie linebacker Kevin Minter practiced with the veterans for most of minicamp and OTAs.
Kevin Minter doesn't produce a big shadow.
Not even when the Arizona skies, glowing with reds and oranges, start to set making everything look taller and longer. As a person, Minter, who is 6-feet tall and 246 pounds, doesn't take up much space. As a football player it's quite the contrary.
Minter's reputation preceded him heading into the NFL Draft. For all the hours teams spent researching him, watching tape on him, one word could have saved them a lot of time and energy: Thumper.
He may not say much but Minter likes to hit, a lot.
"Since I was a kid," he said. "Just something I've always done. I've had good coaches over the years teach me how to hit and how to form tackle, and stuff like that. I've always had that mentality: either hit or get hit. And I really don't like getting hit so I'd rather give it. That's why I play defense."
Minter hasn't received the type of attention one would expect for a second-round pick. He was an All-American linebacker at LSU but the media gangs bypassed him all spring, the radio stations didn't call often and the hype machine seemed to skip over him.
But Minter's seen this before.
He was college teammates with Tyrann Mathieu, the Cardinals' third-round pick, who has been the apple of the media's eye during minicamp and OTAs. Of the 16 questions asked of coach Bruce Arians and General Manager Steve Keim after the second day of the NFL Draft, 10 were about Mathieu.
Two were about Minter.
"Tyrann's been getting attention like that since he started playing," Minter said. "It's well-deserved because of a lot of stuff he's accomplished in college and stuff I feel like he will accomplish here. The dude is talented.
"But how did it affect me? It really didn't affect me much. It is what it is. I'm gonna do what I came here to do and obviously he's going to do the same."
Minter's OK with not being swarmed by cameras or having a schedule full of interviews. He's content being quiet, sitting in front of his corner while figuring out what his role will be for the Cardinals.
They targeted Minter in the second round because of his instincts and position flexibility, Keim said. With Daryl Washington missing the first four games of the season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, Minter will likely see the field early. He was one of a few rookies who practiced with the veterans during the spring.
But he wasn't just drafted to make the Arians' reservoir at linebacker deeper. With Lorenzo Alexander hitting 30 in May and Karlos Dansby turning 32 in November, Minter is pegged as the future at linebacker.
"He is not the longest athlete, but he is a squatty, explosive player that, on impact, he has some natural explosiveness in his hips," Keim said after drafting Minter in April. "He is a talented guy – 130 tackles in the SEC I think says a lot about his production, his nose for the football. Bruce and I have talked about this quite a bit, when he strikes, you go backwards. He is a physical downhill player and has much better range than most people give him credit for."
What the Cardinals are seeing is the product of years of transition.
Minter's football career began as a nose guard and defensive end. But the Atlanta native knew he was too small to play major college football on the line. Before his junior year of high school, Minter moved to outside linebacker. The philosophy was simple: See ball, get ball. He flourished and received offers from some of college football's powers, including Southern California. But when LSU called, Minter couldn't refuse.
He was tutored by Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis, whose reputation for producing NFL-caliber linebackers helped lure Minter to Baton Rouge, La.
"I realized coming in (to college) I didn't know as much as I thought I did," Minter said. "Football is a lot more complex than people think it is. I had to learn concepts, packages, different formations."
He also had to learn the how to be loud. Minter wasn't responsible for relaying the plays to teammates in high school but that changed in college.
"I had to learn how to make my voice be heard," he said.
Playing in the shadow of current Indianapolis Colts linebacker Kelvin Sheppard for two seasons, Minter was given a chance to prove himself as the starter in 2011. By the end of last season, Minter started hearing whispers about the possibility of being drafted.
He was ahead in school and said was his family's state "wasn't necessarily the best situation" so he decided to enter the draft. The transition from college to the pros was easier for Minter than from high school to college.
Even though the game is changing to avoid the big hits, Minter is a member of a select group of thumpers that still roam free in between the sidelines.
"You can't always go around people," he said. "You got to go through them every once in a while."
But there's still more to learn, like he can't thump all the time.
"He thumped way too many guys yesterday so I had to throw him out of the drill," Arians said during the last week of minicamp. "We don't tackle this time of year. But I love his intensity. Everything that he had on tape from college, athletically, he's shown. I'll be shocked if he doesn't hit people."