As the calendar year ends, the busier I get, as all four sports that I cover converge. I have a college basketball game this week at Cal. I have NBA on Christmas Day in Los Angeles. Of course, I will call the Cardinals' final two games and three college football bowl games, one on ABC, another on ESPN, and the Rose Bowl for ESPN Radio. One of the bowl games I look forward to calling features West Virginia and Miami. Anytime I prepare to call a game involving the "U," I can't help but think back to when Calais Campbell played for the Canes.
I remember calling his games when he was in school, and of course, have called every one of his pro games. The first thing
that stood out about Campbell was that he stood above everybody else at 6-foot-8. Campbell also wore the number 81 at Miami, an unusual number for a defensive lineman.
Campbell was a very productive player in college, recording 19½ sacks and 39 tackles for a loss in basically two-and-a-half years of real playing time. But Campbell was not a first round draft pick in 2008. There were some who wondered if he should have returned for Miami for his senior season. Others thought he was too tall to play defensive end in the NFL. Julius Peppers is similar in stature to Campbell, but Calais didn't have Peppers' edge speed and athletic ability. What's most interesting about Campbell's road to the NFL is that the biggest question mark about him coming out of Miami was his motor. Some scouts wondered if he went hard every single play. First of all, most college defensive linemen don't go hard every play. A lot of that comes with time, maturity, and stamina. Still, Campbell had that reputation heading into draft day.
The Cardinals already knew who they wanted to pick in the first round in 2008 and got that player at No. 16 – cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. The Cardinals also loved Campbell and believed he would be an every-down player in the NFL. They took him in the second round with the 50th overall pick, and found out quickly that Campbell was ready to shed the label that some had placed on him.
It was evident in training camp Calais was a player with tremendous motor and work ethic. He was a victim of depth his rookie season, playing as a reserve on defense as well as special teams. In 2009, Campbell emerged as one of the best young defensive players in the game. He had seven sacks, five passes knocked down, and two blocked field goals. Shockingly, it wasn't until six years later that Campbell made the Pro Bowl for the first time.
There is a lingering question about Campbell's future. He is scheduled to be a free agent, and many believe this will be his final year in Arizona. If so, he went out in style, collecting two sacks and his first NFL touchdown last weekend against New Orleans. But Campbell will be 31 next year, and since he has never recorded double-digit sacks, he may not garner a big contract offer from the Cardinals. Who could blame them? They've invested in drafting younger players at his position and they have to pay linebacker Chandler Jones, who is younger and more productive.
While Campbell isn't getting any younger, there will be some team that gives him crazy money. Everyone overpays for other team's free agents in the NFL, which means Campbell is likely to get an offer not commiserate with his age and productivity. That's not a knock on Calais, just the reality of the business. Would Campbell stay for less money than another team might offer? That could be the defining factor in the equation. If not, his time as a member of the "Birdgang" might be drawing to a close. If so, he'll be remembered as the "Giant Gentleman," a player who was always classy with the media and everyone in the Cardinals organization. A guy nicknamed "Tilt" by his teammates for his awkward stance, and "Tree Man" by Ron Wolfley for his length. Who knows, maybe everything lines up right and Campbell returns. If not, like Sunday's touchdown against the Saints, it was a great run.
Images of Cardinals defensive tackle Calais Campbell, who turned 30 on Thursday