It's been nearly a month since the Arizona Cardinals started training camp at University of Phoenix Stadium, and on Friday afternoon, it all comes to an end.
Even though the Cardinals will still have two full weeks until the start of the regular season, like all NFL teams, they will break from their training camp routine and begin practicing on a normal schedule.
Head coach Bruce Arians said one of the reasons Arizona held a longer camp than other teams is because the Cardinals are able to practice at their home stadium as opposed to their practice facility in Tempe.
"I prefer it this way, we get more done here than going to Tempe and being 90 guys in a bubble with limited space so I'd rather continue to practice here and have another week," Arians said. "Most teams already broke, and it's not like it's a grind."
University of Phoenix Stadium is an outstanding facility for training camp in Arizona because the Cardinals are able to practice with a full 100-yard field and add an additional practice area behind the east end zone for linemen drills. Additionally, Arians said the Cardinals have all the meeting rooms and training facilities players and coaches need during camp at their disposal at the stadium.
Practicing inside their home stadium not only allows Cardinal players the opportunity to prepare in a climate-controlled environment, but it also places younger players in the same environment they'll play regular season contests which Arians said works in their favor.
"We've had an outstanding camp again, it's such a great facility to have," Arians said. "We've got great meeting room space, locker room space, this is a great site to have training camp and to practice in our stadium and get used to it. Especially for the younger players so that when they come in here it's not an extra excitement level because we're in the stadium."
Training camp often become a grind for veteran players, but defensive lineman Calais Campbell said it never reached that point this season. A ninth-year NFL veteran who has become a cornerstone of the franchise, Campbell said this year's team will break training camp with more talent than the Cardinals' roster that won a division title a season ago possessed.
"It's been a great camp, this is the best team I've been apart of, I think we got a lot better than we were last year at this point," Campbell said. "You know, a lot of talent in this locker room, it's going to be some tough decisions ahead for our front office. Training camp has been fun, but excited for it to end and get into playing games that count."
Campbell has seen Arizona's success build under Arians and general manager Steve Keim, and said the type of roster the team has this season positions the Cardinals for a rare opportunity to compete for a championship.
"I know how rare it is to have the opportunity to really win a championship so my only motivation is doing everything possible to make sure that we capitalize on that opportunity," Campbell said. "You play this game long enough, I'm going into my ninth year, we've only had a couple opportunities really and I feel this team has the best opportunity of any team I've been apart of."
Nkemdiche returns to team drills
Arians said it took some convincing for first round draft pick Robert Nkemdiche to take to the practice field Wednesday afternoon, but Nkemdiche performed well in the opportunities he saw.
"He (Nkemdiche) had a good day, when he didn't think he could practice," Arians said.
Nkemdiche missed the first three weeks of training camp with a high ankle sprain suffered during rookie workouts over the summer, and finally returned to the practice field for the first time Monday afternoon.
On Monday, Nkemdiche participated in individual drills with the defensive linemen, but retired to the locker room when the Cardinals began focusing exclusively on team drills.
Arians indicated Nkemdiche is still tentative on his ankle, but that his explosiveness and ability to beat offensive linemen in one-on-one situations still managed to jump out on Wednesday.
"I thought the one-on-ones were good, I thought the team periods he was still a little bit high at times but he's obviously got pass rush ability," Arians said.
Having been the face of Arizona's defensive line for the better part of his career, Campbell opted to take Nkemdiche under his wing during training camp, and the Cardinals' veteran said he's excited to see how Nkemdiche contributes this season.
"He (Nkemdiche) looked really good yesterday, in the one-on-one pass rushing drills he took turns beating everybody down the line and that's really exciting to see cause he's a great talent and just getting him mentally ready to play week one is going to be huge," Campbell said.