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DT Nkemdiche: Newfound respect after year away

10:02 PM ET

  • Brady HendersonESPN

RENTON, Wash. — Robert Nkemdiche let out a howl and pumped an arm in celebration after one of his turns in a drill Wednesday. After another, he did a running hurdle, then shouted something inaudible back at his fellow defensive linemen.

The 2016 first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals is getting a chance to resurrect his career with the Seattle Seahawks after a year away from football, and he’s enjoying it. That much has been clear from the first two practices of Seattle’s mandatory minicamp.

“Being out here with these guys and competing and playing football, smelling the grass, all this, it’s what I missed,” he said. “This is the fun stuff.”

In June 2019, Nkemdiche was arrested on an outstanding traffic warrant after he was pulled over for speeding on his way to a Cardinals practice. He arrived to training camp later that summer out of shape, according to coach Kliff Kingsbury, and was waived with a failed-physical designation before the season.

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 drugs policy.

“It wasn’t fun,” the 26-year-old Nkemdiche said of his year away from 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 opportunity to be back here and to be able to play football again.”

The Seahawks signed Nkemdiche in April to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $990,000, none of which is guaranteed. It’s a low-risk flier that reflects how Nkemdiche isn’t assured of sticking with the Seahawks, but he has made a positive impression so far.

“He’s got a really good spirit about him,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s upbeat, active, he’s explosive and has really good quickness, he’s over 300 pounds and he moves really well. He’s going to be a real competitive part of this group and he’s a little different than some of the other guys, so we see some flexibility in where we can play him and move him around.”

Nkemdiche recorded zero sacks and zero starts in 17 games over 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 Poona Ford locked into one starting spot at defensive tackle. They brought back 34-year-old Al Woods as an early-down option after Jarran Reed‘s bizarre departure. Woods was also out of football last year, having taken 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.

“Because he’s been out of football for a bit, I’m hoping for his sake that everything just keeps moving along because he’s applying himself, his mentality is like he has this second chance on his football life and he knows that, which is really important,” Carroll said. “He’s trying to seize every opportunity. We’re really happy to have him as part of this and we think he’s going to be a factor.”

Nkemdiche said he feels like a rookie again and that he has a newfound respect for football, adding: “I never want the opportunity to be taken away from me again.”

He was asked whether he’s viewing this as his last chance.

“Yeah,” he said. “It’s the only chance I’ll need, though.”

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