Cardinals defensive tackle Rodney Gunter's first career sack came against the Bengals' Andy Dalton.
Rodney Gunter returned to Delaware State during graduation ceremonies in May and learned how much he inspired his former teammates.
After a rookie season in which the Cardinals' defensive tackle played in all 16 games and started 11, he was bombarded by players telling him they were ready to follow in his footsteps.
"It's such a small school," Gunter said. "Guys didn't really believe or have that motivation until they saw me make it."
Gunter was happy with his first NFL season – 34 tackles, a sack, five tackles for loss and 12 quarterback pressures – and not surprised by it. He always felt like he belonged at the sport's highest level, and even when a season-ending injury to Corey Peters vaulted Gunter into the starting lineup from Day One, he didn't flinch.
"I had no choice but to step up and be a player early," Gunter said.
The Cardinals' defensive line boasts standout Calais Campbell, first-round pick Robert Nkemdiche and other solid pieces, but another disruptive presence would be welcome.
Peters watched from the sideline in 2015 and thought Gunter did "a really good job" stepping in for him as a rookie. He expects even more from his defensive line mate this season.
"Some of the things on the defensive line are really small nuances, stuff you can only learn from experience," Peters said. "This is one of the biggest opportunities for movement, because in the first year you're just so new. You're trying to learn so much.
"Now, in the second year in the defense, he should already have a base level of understanding within the scheme and what we're supposed to be doing. We're running a lot of the same things. I think that should allow him, and everybody just in general, to play a lot faster once you have a better understanding of everything."
Gunter mostly played on the interior of the defensive line last year because of the void left by Peters, but could be used at a variety of positions in 2016. He feels like he can stuff the run on the inside and get after the quarterback if moved to the edge. Coach Bruce Arians likes the options Gunter brings.
"Rodney's got great flexibility," Arians said.
Gunter said he doesn't have a preference to where he lines up.
"I like to be versatile," he said. "In college I was versatile. It doesn't matter what position I play, as long as I'm playing and making plays."
Gunter has the lofty goal of making the All-Pro team in 2016, but also knows it's not all smooth sailing in the NFL, where opposing offensive linemen are powerful.
"I learned that you have your ups and downs during the season," Gunter said. "You have to embrace the losses. You can't just watch every good play. You have to watch the bad plays and bounce back off of that."
If Gunter continues to progress, it could give the Cardinals another formidable piece as they aim to build up the defensive front.
"He's a very explosive guy, a very strong guy," Peters said. "We're expecting him to take that next step and be a big part of what we're doing on the defensive line."
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