RENTON — The Seahawks have perfected the art of turning a football practice into a two-hour assault on the eardrums.
Coach Pete Carroll was one of the originators of music at practice, something now en vogue nearly everywhere. And most assistants follow his high-energy lead of not letting even the most basic of plays go without audible encouragement that is often matched by players.
But through the Seahawks’ 2021 offseason program, one voice has stood out among the crowd, that of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, who signed with the Seahawks in April.
Nkemdiche finishes every drill with loud shouts and exhortations that are impossible to miss even in the din of the usual practice noise.
“You just get excited about the moment, and I’m excited about it,’’ Nkemdiche said when he talked to the media via Zoom following Wednesday’s second minicamp workout at the VMAC.
If that quote doesn’t match the image of the most enthusiastic player on the field, it was obvious when Nkemdiche talked to the media that he was measuring each word as carefully as possible.
Probably a smart move for a player who sat out last season after a four-year start to his career where his production came nowhere close to matching the potential that compelled Arizona to take him with the 29th overall pick in 2016.
Nkemdiche hasn’t played since being released by Miami in the middle of the 2019 season having played in just 29 games with six starts and 4 1/2 sacks in his career (he played just two games in Miami in 2019 where his season included a two-game league suspension for unspecified reasons).
He arrived in Miami after suffering a knee injury in 2018 that landed him on injured reserve and led to him being waived by Arizona after just three seasons in the desert.
That seemed to confirm the worries some teams had of Nkemdiche heading into the 2016 draft. He had been pegged by some as a possible top-half-of-the first round pick.
No one doubted his physical ability at Ole Miss, where he was a two-time second-team All-American, where he arrived after being lauded as the consensus No. 1 recruit in the nation at Loganville (Georgia) High.
But a suspension for Ole Miss’ Orange Bowl game in 2015 for what was reported by ESPN to be a charge for marijuana possession fed concerns about his maturity.
That history helped lead to teams taking a pass on Nkemdiche last season and him sitting out the year, which he admitted obviously enough “wasn’t fun.’’
But Nkemdiche decided to rededicate himself in the offseason, and the Seahawks were impressed enough at a workout to offer him a one-year deal for the veteran minimum of $990,000.
That makes this the proverbial nothing-to-lose flyer by the Seahawks for a player they were thought to be interested in drafting in 2016. That year they traded down from 26 to 31 and took defensive tackle Jarran Reed in the second round.
A few no-pads OTAs and minicamp practices don’t prove a whole lot.
But the Seahawks say that so far they like what they’ve seen out of Nkemdiche, who can be used at tackle and end and can be a particular problem at tackle in the nickel.
“He’s a little different than some of the other guys, and so we see some flexibility in where we can play him and move him around,” Carroll said this week. “I’m hoping for his sake, because he’d been out of football for a bit, I’m hoping for his sake that everything just keeps moving along because he is applying himself. His mentality is like he has a second chance on his football life and he knows that, which is really important.”
And if the Seahawks can be the team to get Nkemdiche’s career on track, then they could really have something. He is just 26, barely a year older than teammate L.J. Collier, Seattle’ first pick in the 2019 draft.
“He’s got a really good spirit about him,” Carroll said when asked about Nkemdiche’s on-field enthusiasm. “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.”
Nkemdiche said his knee is good. He indicated he had other offers but said he picked Seattle because that’s were he felt most comfortable.
“Hopefully I don’t have to leave here,’’ he said.
And he admitted that his career to date taught him that “in order to have a chance to be good at this game you have to spend time with it and keep figuring out ways that you can get better.’’
Nkemdiche also acknowledged he may have just one chance — even at his tender age — to prove to the NFL that he can get that done.
“It’s the only chance I’ll need, though,’’ he said confidently.
And fully embracing that chance, he said, is part of why he has proven impossible to miss on the field so far.
“I’ve always been enthusiastic,’’ he said. “I guess for me, I have a newfound respect for the game because I kind of got to be away from it, so I’m probably overly excited — a lot more excited, excited than these guys who’ve been out here. But yeah I mean it’s just I never want the opportunity to be taken away from me again.’’