J.J. Nelson taking Bruce Arians’ valuable teachings to heart

GLENDALE, Ariz. – One of the biggest knocks against J.J. Nelson is his size. At 5-10, 160 pounds, Nelson is the smallest of the seven Cardinals draft picks.

Head coach Bruce Arians wants to get him up to around 175 pounds before the regular season starts. The team is doing everything it can to get Nelson there. They’ve upgraded their cafeteria area at their Tempe facility, and Nelson’s been enjoying those benefits already.

“Yeah, I’ve been eating a lot. (The) food’s pretty good out here,” Nelson said. “I try to eat a lot to help me gain the weight.”

Being as light as he is had to have helped Nelson run that 4.28 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, which was the fastest time of anyone there that week. Nelson believes that he can actually run the 40 even faster than that, which is mind-blowing to think that a human being can run that fast.

Arians has coached some burners in his time in the NFL – T.Y. Hilton and John Brown are the two most recent – but he says Nelson blows them out of the water.

“He (Nelson) probably is the fastest,” Arians said. “He’s faster than T.Y. (Hilton), he’s faster than Smokey (John Brown) and he plays that fast, especially on kickoff and punt returns – dynamic.”

“When you think of a track guy, you don’t think of change of direction. He makes so many people miss on punt returns and kickoff returns, and as soon as you miss him, no one can catch him,” Arians said. “Yes he is frail, but there have been some great, great punt returners and kick returners about 160 pounds that I know of, and he’ll be 175 quick.”

Arians saw Nelson run track when he was in high school, and he was blown away by his speed.

“This kid from Midfield (Ala.) won the 100, 200, 4×1(00) – little skinny dude. My son and I go, ‘Who in the hell is that?’ It just happened to be J.J. Nelson,” Arians said.

It really is a small world. Arians and Nelson didn’t formally meet that day, yet a few years later, they’d come back full circle with the Cardinals.

“I just wanted to go out there and win every race and it so happens that Coach (Bruce) Arians was out there,” Nelson said.

Arians has seemingly taken Nelson under his wing. During the rookie minicamp last weekend, Arians took time to give Nelson some valuable one-on-one instruction, which Nelson soaked in like a sponge.

“(Just) telling me the little things, what I did right, what I did wrong, what I need to clean up,” Nelson said. “He’s (Arians) doing a pretty good job of helping me and hoping I continue to grow with those things he’s teaching me with.”

Being a professional athlete is so much different from being a college athlete; especially one who came from a small school like Nelson did at Alabama-Birmingham. The biggest adjustment Nelson’s making right now is just getting used to his new life as a professional football player.

“Getting a feel of the game, the playbook, getting in the playbook each and every night, learning the NFL terminology,” Nelson said, “Things like that (are) pretty much the biggest adjustment so far.”

It can be a lot for a 23-year old to absorb – the whole NFL life – because it’s a constant grind. Things move at warp speed at this level. Like Nelson said, he’s got to get the playbook down, he’s got to make sure he plays well enough in the offseason to make the 53-man roster, he’s got to deal with an increased media presence following his every move, and reporting on everything he does, both good and bad. Plus he’s got to deal with family and friends, and all of his “new family and friends” that suddenly show up because he’s in the NFL now.

It could wipe Nelson out if he’s not careful, but he seems to have a good grasp on what he needs to do to handle all these new stresses in his life.

“It’s tough, but at the end of the day it’s football. You’ve been doing this your whole life. This is a dream that you’ve been dreaming for ever since you were a kid, so really just embrace the moment and come out each and every day getting better,” Nelson said.

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