GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) Kevin Minter wanted a chance last year to show people how he compared with the Arizona Cardinals’ standout middle linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington.
That opportunity never came. He played one down on defense his entire rookie season.
Now, though, he’ll get all the comparisons he can handle.
Dansby and Washington are gone, and Minter is being counted on to help fill that big hole in the middle of a defense that ranked sixth in the NFL last season.
The second-round draft pick out of LSU knows people wonder if he can play, since he didn’t get on the field for anything but special teams virtually all of last season.
”I understand the doubts. I might be labeled as a bust,” he said. ”I take that as a chip on my shoulder. I really just want to prove people wrong.”
The 23-year-old Minter is replacing Dansby as the one who calls the defensive signals. Throughout summer workouts, and through training camp, he has remained supremely confident.
”I feel they drafted me for a reason,” he said before practice on Monday. ”I’ve obviously done it before and I feel I definitely can do it at this level.”
Minter left LSU after a superb junior season.
He ranked third in the SEC at 10 tackles per game. He led the Tigers with 130 tackles, fourth-most in the school’s history.
Although a bit undersized at 6 feet, 246 pounds, Minter thrived at stuffing the run. He expects that to be his best skill in the NFL, too.
The Cardinals led the NFL in rushing defense last season, allowing just 84.4 yards per game.
On Saturday at its ”Fan Fest,” the team ended the practice with a live, full-speed goal-line scrimmage. It was an early chance for Minter to show he belongs.
”I just tried to show that I am that physical guy that y’all make me out to be,” he said. ”I will come downhill. We established last year we were a pretty stout run defense. I just want to make sure people know we’re still a force to be reckoned with in the running game.”
Coach Bruce Arians said Minter ”was fine’ ‘ in the scrimmage.
He did ”everything I knew he would,” Arians said. ”Sold tackling, right where he was supposed to be.”
Dansby, who led the team in tackles in his one season back with the Cardinals in 2013, signed a big free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns. Washington, widely considered one of the best at his position, was suspended for the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, he says for smoking marijuana.
Even as he waited and watched all season, Minter said he knew he’d get his chance.
”I always felt like this was going to be my defense eventually,” he said. ”It was just a grooming year for me. The coaches were always encouraging – coach Bowles (defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) and coach Arians, they said just sit and watch how a real professional does it.”
Minter’s one play on defense was late against Jacksonville.
”It was like the last play of the game,” he said. ”I’m not even sure if I did the play right. I was kind of excited to be out there.”
Minter said he spent the offseason preparing physically and mentally.
His debut as a starter comes Saturday night in the preseason opener at home against the Houston Texans.
”I haven’t really been in in a while,” he said. ”I’m anxious to prove what I can do.”
NOTES: Minter is one of three LSU players on Arizona’s starting defense. The others are CB Patrick Peterson and S Tyrann Mathieu, when he recovers from knee surgery. … Rookie WR John Brown remained sidelined with a sore hamstring. … Arians said he expects OLB John Abraham, who says he is dealing with ”personal issues” following his drunk driving arrest, to be in camp sometime next week. … Monday’s practice, unlike all the others, was closed to the public.
AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL