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Is the old Robert Nkemdiche back?

The former first-round pick showed flashes in a preseason game of why he was so coveted coming out of college.

NFL: New York Jets at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

After being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals with the 29th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, the expectations were extremely high for the former All-SEC player. After all, the former No. 1 overall prospect in the country who chose to play in Oxford over Alabama, Clemson and LSU was one of the most talked about names in the draft and the combine. But, not for the best reasons. Nevertheless, 6’3, 294-pound guys who run a 4.8 40-yard dash don’t grow on trees so Bruce Arians and company pulled the trigger.

Since arriving in Phoenix, his career has been riddled with injury reports and questions about his focus, drive and overall effort. The Atlanta native managed just one tackle and one pass defended in his rookie year and some thought he might fall into the category of NFL flops that never seem to blossom into the great player they once were destined to be.

Then, Thursday night happened.

In the NFL’s Hall of Fame preseason game last night, the Cardinals took on the Cowboys. And he didn’t just play, he started. This was Nkemdiche’s first time to show that he’s changed his approach mentally and is focused on improving as a player and becoming an integral part of the Arizona defensive line. And it looks like, for now, he’s on the right path.

Let’s take a peek at a few of the plays that stood out, shall we?

Now, in this first clip, he doesn’t make the tackle, but let’s not be naive. He completely blew this play up before it even started. Robert was able to completely whip his man, get his head across the lineman, shed the block and force the cut back into the flow of the defense. Picture perfect slant technique.

Now, let’s take a closer look and slow it down just so you can see his incredible quickness that he was known for in college.

Lol he’s already past the center before he is even out of his stance. This is just remarkable speed off the football and what made NFL scouts drool over him a year ago coming out of college. The speed and athleticism to beat centers and guards off the ball and blow shit up is what is going to get him more PT this season. Rinse and repeat then do it all over again some more.

Then, we see Robert in his natural element: a double team.

This is where Mr. Nkemdiche can earn his stripes and play for a very long time in the league. He was drafted to be a guy to attract AND beat double teams. It’s a win-win for Bruce Arians’ defense. If he attracts them, great, more opportunities for others to get one-on-one opportunities and the linebackers to be freed up. If he beats the double team, even better. Disrupt and destroy. That’s why he was drafted.

Now, I get it, it was just one preseason game and he only registered one tackle in the box score. But, it was against the Dallas Cowboys, a team that paved the way for Dak Prescott to have a breakout year as a rookie and for Ezekiel Elliott to run for 1,631 yards. But, what we saw last night and what makes Robert great is his relentless effort and strength coupled with lightning quickness off the ball. That is what is going to get him on the field this season.

He has battled demons on and off the field for a few years now so it’s good to see that things are possibly clicking in the right direction for Ace Boogie. Keep it up, Merlin.