The hype surrounding sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche his freshman year was not a fluke.
The number one overall recruit coming out of high school admitted the excitement of his recruiting process and the expectations that came with being the best recruit got to him.
But now, Nkemdiche has noticed a big difference in his approach to this season compared to last season.
“It’s totally different,” Nkemdiche said. “I know the playbook so much better. I’m much more chilled out. I’m not freaking out right now. I’m not nervous. My head’s on straight, and I’m ready to have a huge game.”
The hype for Robert Nkemdiche may be even greater this season than it was last season. Nkemdiche came into camp at 280 pounds, lighter than he came into camp his freshman year, and added more muscle to his athletic frame.
His freshman year, Nkemdiche had a total of 34 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and two sacks. Most people would consider that a really good season but not for the expectations that surrounded him.
Nkemdiche has impressed his coaches and teammates so far with his explosive play and freakish athletic ability. It’s easy to say that Nkemdiche has had a dominant camp so far.
“I’ve had a really good camp. I’ve just been focused. I’m bringing it every day, 100 percent no matter what,” Nkemdiche said. “I’m ready for the season and to have a dominant season.”
Nkemdiche admitted that during his freshman year he relied on his talent and sheer athletic ability to try and make plays. Nkemdiche would often bull rush the opposing offensive line to try and get tackles in the backfield. This camp, Nkemdiche has added more moves to his arsenal to complete his repertoire of pass rush moves.
“Something that can make you stronger as a player is knowing the playbook better,” Nkemdiche said. “Last year, I felt like I had all the intangibles to be great, but I didn’t know the scheme as well, so I went out there and felt like I didn’t know what to do. Just went out there and tried to make plays. This year, I feel like knowing the playbook a lot better and being more mature as a player and having another SEC season under my belt is going to help me a lot better because I know what to expect.”
Nkemdiche has improved as a defensive lineman from a three-technique standpoint, and his coaches have taken notice.
“Football wise, it’s blocking schemes, understanding the three-technique and studying film of Warren Sapp and the great three-technique guys,” Chris Kiffin, defensive line coach said. “The guy is so eager to learn. We call it having a toolbox of pass rush moves. Last year in our first game, he bull-rushed every single play. He had no idea. Now he has a whole toolbox of moves. He’s so hungry to do really good, and I’m excited for everyone to see that.”
Being more relaxed and prepared from a day-to-day standpoint has given Nkemdiche a clear mind and ready to make the leap as one of the top defensive players in the Southeastern conference. His maturity has stood out.
“With all the things we have done, it seems that he is more mature,” head coach Hugh Freeze said. “I’m real proud of him. Not that he was easy to coach. The guy is such a competitor, but now it’s more like he is really understanding the ‘we before me’ part. I’m proud of his maturity, and he’ll know there will be some challenges on the way because he’s such a magnet for people. We talk about the challenges that he will face with the gifts that he’s given, and he’s ready.”