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Nkemdiches confidence riding high with Cardinals

Sports Xchange - Friday 11th August, 2017

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals' first-string units will make their preseason debuts Saturday night when Arizona hosts the Oakland Raiders, and there will be at least one player making his initial appearance as a starter.

According to coach Bruce Arians, second-year defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche has looked so dominant in training camp that he is been getting regular reps with the first-team defense in practice. Moving forward, Nkemdiche will be a regular part of the rotation up front.

"He's getting better every single day," Arians said, calling Nkemdiche "very disruptive."

Nkemdiche's rookie season was waylaid due to injuries and inconsistency. The former first-round pick out of Ole Miss only appeared in five games and was credited with just three total tackles.

This week's promotion was obviously welcomed good news.

"You work hard to get better and keep progressing, so that's the main goal," Nkemdiche said. "I'm happy about it, but I'm going to keep working hard."

Asked if practicing with the first-stringers is a boost to his confidence, he said, "Yeah, of course. It's one thing to believe in yourself, but it's another when people who have been around this game believe in you also. That's another thing."

The first-team offense isn't the only think Nkemdiche has cracked. His football helmet is covered with gouges, cuts, rips and a series of scary-looking cracks.

"Hey, I'm aggressive, man," Nkemdiche said, smiling. "I really should be using my hands more, but sometimes I like to head-butt, you know what I mean?"

--A day after coach Bruce Arians criticized both of his punters, Matt Wile and Richie Leone, the Cardinals brought in free agent Brock Miller for a workout on Wednesday.

"I'm not real pleased with it yet right now," Arians had said of the competition thus far between Wile and Leone. "It's too inconsistent, both guys. ... We'll look at them for another couple weeks. If we have to make a change, we'll make a change."

As for Miller's visit, Arians didn't sound impressed.

"We brought one in to look at. We'll continue to look at who's available," he said.

--Justin Bethel has reclaimed his position as the leading candidate to win the starting right cornerback job opposite All-Pro Patrick Peterson.

"If he plays at the level he's playing at right now, he's going to have a great year," Arians said.

--Arians on fourth-year tight end Troy Niklas: "When he's healthy, he's another tackle that can run and catch. Hercules is his nickname, and he wears it well -- when he's healthy. He's just had those freaky injuries. Last year, it was a big blow to our running game when he got hurt."

--Cornerback Patrick Peterson has been the standout of the Cardinals' training camp, according to quarterback Carson Palmer.

Asked for specifics, Palmer told reporters, "Just performance. It's the best I've seen him, there's no doubt. I told him that the other day. I think it's his seventh year, and like a fine wine, he's aged well in those seven years. He's just had great practice after great practice. He's contested every single ball. Not that he's broken up every single pass, but he is right on top of it. He's just looked really, really good."

--Running back David Johnson said he is craving contact and is looking forward to his first action of the preseason, which he will get Saturday night against the Raiders.

"It's been awhile," he said. "It's been a long offseason, it feels like, so I'm excited. I definitely feel like I need some contact, some tackling, getting hit before the season actually starts."

Johnson said it's not because he is curious to test his left knee, which he injured during the final week of the season. The knee, he said, is 100 percent.

"It's just getting in the grove, getting into the actual football atmosphere of getting on the ground, tackling, blocking -- stuff like that," he said.

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