RENTON, Wash. – Robert Nkemdiche screamed and pumped his arm in celebration after one of his turns in a practice Wednesday. After another, he did a running hurdle, then yelled something inaudible back to his fellow defense linemen.
The Arizona Cardinals’ first-round roster of 2016 gets the chance to revive his career with the Seattle Seahawks after a year away from football, and he’s enjoying it. That’s clear from the first two practices of Seattle’s mandatory mini-camp.
“To be here with these guys and fight and play football, smell the grass, all this, that’s what I’ve been missing,” he said. “These are the fun stuff.”
In June 2019, Nkemdiche was arrested under an outstanding traffic warrant after being arrested for speeding on his way to a Cardinals practice. According to coach Kliff Kingsbury, he arrived out of form at training camp later that summer and was fired before the season with a failed physical designation.
Nkemdiche then signed with the Miami Dolphins, but was waived after playing in two games. While a free agent, he served a two-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
“It wasn’t fun,” 26-year-old Nkemdiche said of his year without football. “It wasn’t a good time. But like I said, being back here, this is exciting for me. This is what I love to do. I’m just happy to have the chance to be back here and to be able to play football again .”
The Seahawks signed Nkemdiche to a one-year deal in April for the experienced minimum of $990,000, none of which is guaranteed. It’s a low-risk aviator that shows how Nkemdiche isn’t sure about staying with the Seahawks, but he’s made a positive impression so far.
“He has a really good spirit about him,” said coach Pete Carroll. “He’s upbeat, active, explosive and has really good speed, he weighs over 300lbs and he moves really well. He’s going to be a really competitive part of this group and he’s a little different from some of the other guys so we see some flexibility in where we can play and move him.”
Nkemdiche registered zero sacks and zero starts in 17 games during his first two seasons in Arizona, then had 4.5 sacks in 10 games (six starts) in 2018 before a knee injury ended his season.
The Seahawks have locked Poona Ford in one starting spot with defensive gear. They brought back 34-year-old Al Woods as an early option after Jarran Reed’s bizarre departure. Woods was also out of football last year after taking a COVID-19 opt-out. Seattle’s defensive tackles behind Ford, Woods, Nkemdiche and Bryan Mone have played sparingly, if at all, in the NFL.
“Since he hasn’t played football for a while, I hope for him that everything just goes on, because he puts himself in, his mentality is like he has this second chance at his football life and he knows that, which is really important,” says Carroll. He tries to seize every opportunity. He’s a real one — not so much of a surprise as usual, we’re really happy to have him here and we think he’ll be a factor.”
Nkemdiche said he feels like a rookie again and has a newfound respect for football, adding: “I never want the opportunity to be taken away from me again.”
He was asked if he sees this as his last chance.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s the only chance I need, though.”
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