GLENDALE, Ariz. — Never mind the vastly different climate or the 1,400-plus mile separation, Cardinals linebacker Kevin Minter feels like he’s back in Baton Rouge.
Minter likened the wealth of talent around him with the Cardinals and the anticipation for the season to his experience at college powerhouse LSU. More than that, he see’s a current parallel to his time at 2012 season with the Tigers.
"It’s my time," Minter said. "I feel like I’ve answered the call once and I can do it again."
Minter gets the chance this season to replace Karlos Dansby in the starting lineup, as he did Kelvin Sheppard at LSU, and the Cardinals need Minter to rise to the occasion.
Minter’s opportunity was born out of necessity, as Dansby left in free agency for a bigger deal in Cleveland. But given the Cardinals drafted Minter in the second round in 2013, they certainly expected him to be a starter sometime, though perhaps not this soon.
As Dansby had the breakout season — 122 tackles, 6-1/2 sacks and four interceptions — that led to a big pay day with the Browns, Minter saw action in just 13 games last year and battled nagging hamstring and shoulder injuries. Still, simply watching Dansby helped position Minter for this opportunity.
"It’s obviously going to be hard to fill Karlos’ shoes," Minter said. "He had a great season last year, and I learned a lot from him. … Coming from college, you kind of just line up and play. It’s a lot more than that at this level."
The biggest thing Minter learned from Dansby: preparation, both on the field and off. Along with learning how to prepare for practice and play at this level, Minter also picked up better nutrition habits.
"He got on a great diet and lost weight," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said "He looks good."
Minter also apparently looks good in the field. Arians said Minter is where he needs to be right now, playing the physical, playmaking football the team expects from him. In some ways, Minter may even be an upgrade, particularly as a run stopper.
"Kevin is a thumper, more physical blitzer (and) better run player, so you don’t have to cover him up as much as we did the other guys," Arians said.
The other guy in "other guys" is, of course, Daryl Washington, the team’s other inside linebacker last season who is now suspended for the year due to another violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.
The Cardinals may look to both Larry Foote and Lorenzo Alexander to replace Washington, though Foote appears to be their first option. Foote, who played for the Steelers the past four seasons, isn’t thinking about replacing anyone though, rather just keeping it simple.
"I’m just trying to find a role on this team and bring quality leadership," Foote said. "It’s the same defense I grew up with, just different terminology. I’m trying to add a piece to the pie."
Foote, 34, missed all but one game last season with a ruptured bicep but had his most productive statistical season in 2012, totaling 75 tackles and four sacks while missing just 18 snaps all season. Still, Arians in the spring questioned whether Foote could play three downs consistently, but Foote insists he’s prepared to do so after essentially having a year off to keep his legs fresh.
Arians also suggested Foote makes up for anything he lacks physically with knowledge gleaned from 13 seasons in the league.
"He knows what you’re running before you snap the ball," Arians said. "He’s that kind of player."
Foote is also the kind of player that could be a big help to a second-year player like Minter. Foote has taken Minter under his wing a bit and helped coach him up. So far, he’s been impressed.
"You know, old guys always judge a football player by ‘You’re smart or you’re dumb,’ and he’s a smart one," Foote said. "That’s all I’ve seen right now."
Foote also said Minter appears ready for the opportunity to start. The Cardinals need both to be, as the situation at linebacker could get even more problematic should outside linebacker John Abraham face disciplinary action after a DUI charge he faces came to light Monday.
As much as Minter might feel the excitement of being back in college and the thrill of stepping into a starting role, he surely knows the competition level is much greater in the NFL, as is the pressure to perform. Minter, though, seems calm and focused on the opportunity.
"You really can’t put too much on it," Minter said. "You won’t sleep at night if you do. I’ve been doing this all my life. I know how to get ready for the game, I know how to watch film and stuff like that. It’s really just getting out and doing it."
Minter understands, too, he must make good on the faith the Cardinals are putting in him while helping provide stability to a position in much need of it.
"I’ve still got to earn my keep," Minter said. "I really haven’t done anything yet."