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J.J. Nelson Wants To Offer More Than Speed

Wide receiver works to make himself valuable on all routes

Wide receiver J.J. Nelson snares a pass during work this offseason.
Wide receiver J.J. Nelson snares a pass during work this offseason.

J.J. Nelson still talks often to John Brown, Jaron Brown and Brittan Golden, even though they aren't in the Cardinals wide receivers room any longer.

"We are still encouraging each other, saying how much we miss each other," Nelson said.

But Nelson doesn't want to live in the past, either. He's got new wideouts joining himself and Larry Fitzgerald and Chad Williams. Frankly, he doesn't want to be seen as the same Nelson, either.

"Coming in and being labeled a deep-ball guy," Nelson said, "I've been trying to put the total package together and I feel like with this offense, it can help me with that for sure."

Speed will always be the top attribute for the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Nelson. Abilities you cannot coach into a player, coach Steve Wilks noted, are "always a plus." And once, when Nelson first arrived and he was part of a top-flight corps that included Fitzgerald, the Browns and Michael Floyd, that was mostly what the Cardinals needed from Nelson – take the top off the defense so there was room to work for others.

Nelson has wanted to grow his game. The Cardinals need him to do that.

Last season, with Floyd gone and John Brown struggling, Nelson looked like he might develop into a solid second receiver behind Fitzgerald. He had five receptions in each of the first two games of the season, and his 120 yards and a touchdown was a big reason the Cards managed to win in Indianapolis in Week Two.

Over the final 11 games of the season, however, Nelson never had more than two catches or 46 yards in a game.

"Last year is last year," Nelson said. "That's in the past. We have a whole new coaching staff, a whole new scheme and style. I'm focusing on myself."

Opportunity is vast. With all his cohorts leaving, Nelson's competition for the No. 2 receiver behind Fitzgerald is wide open. Williams, Brice Butler, rookie Christian Kirk and the newly signed Greg Little all figure to be in the mix in camp, but no one has yet made themselves the front-runner.

Nelson's speed "fits in any type of offense," wide receivers coach Kevin Garver said, and that will always be used to Nelson's advantage both by the player and the coaching staff.

"Where he really has grown in his years here is his fundamental techniques and what it takes to play the position," Garver added. "(Speed) is his quality, yes, but he's also a really good receiver and runs really good routes."

Nelson does embrace the idea of being a deep threat, especially since it can keep defenders honest when covering him. He's been able to flash big-play ability in shorter routes over the years, with a couple of memorable catch-and-run plays against the Seahawks both at home (40 yards) and in Seattle (41 yards) in 2016.

He wants to do that more often, even if it's unexpected. That'd certainly be something to talk about with his former teammates.

"Being under the radar, I like it like that," Nelson said. "I've been like that all my life, so that's nothing. As far as right now, I'm taking it one day at a time. I think I am doing a pretty good job with the system. They've got me all over the place."

Images from the final day of minicamp -- and the final day of 2018 offseason work