TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) Kevin Minter didn't have the immediate success he expected when the Arizona Cardinals drafted him in the second round out of LSU in 2013.
He's having it now.
Minter, as middle linebacker, calls the defensive sets for the front seven of a Cardinals team that was 10-2 and had won six in a row heading into a game Thursday night against Minnesota.
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For two seasons, he waited for his chance, first behind Karlos Dansby in 2013, then behind Larry Foote last year.
''He learned from two really good players in Karlos and Larry how to be a pro,'' Arizona coach Bruce Arians said.
As a rookie, he played one down on defense. The rest he spent on special teams.
He played more last season, though usually in run situations, and he played most of the season with a torn pectoral muscle. He chose to play through the injury rather than shut it down for surgery.
Sitting and watching - and hurting - ''humbled me,'' Minter said.
''Coming in here, me being a second-round pick, I wouldn't say I was necessarily cocky,'' he said, ''but at the same time you're thinking, `I'm going to play.'''
Instead, Dansby signed a one-year deal for the job. Last season, Foote inked a one-year contract.
''I got a reality check when Karlos came in,'' Minter said. ''He really showed me how to be a professional. The next year with Foote, it was even more so. So it means a lot playing my position now and doing what I always knew I could do.''
Last year, Minter had 49 tackles, five for a loss, and one pass defended. He passed those statistics this year, a long time ago.
Through 10 games, Minter is second on the team with 80 tackles (behind Deone Bucannon's 89) with 12 tackles for a loss, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble and five passes defended. All the while, he's taking defensive signals and making sure others are where they're supposed to be.
''He runs everything,'' said Bucannon, who lines up alongside Minter in Arizona's 4-3 scheme. ''He probably says four or five different checks every play because he understands it. He's a really intelligent player. He sets the front. He guides and directs our defensive linemen. He's a lot like Rashad (Johnson) in our secondary. Everything with the front seven he puts in order before the play.''
In Arizona's win over Cincinnati, Minter had a career-high 12 tackles. He credits his strong year to his offseason, when he rehabilitated his pectoral muscle and studied the playbook.
''I really got into the book,'' he said, ''just trying to understand where everybody fits into the defense. Because I'm the middle linebacker, I'm pretty much the quarterback, so I took my time to try to learn it and obviously you see the success that's going on now.''
Arians said Minter is in better shape than before.
''He changed his body,'' the coach said. ''He went from just a straight thumper at 250 (pounds) to a more svelt thumper, and he can stay on the grass in third down situations now. He's turned into a hell of a blitzer. He brings power when he blitzes.''
Plus, Arians said, ''his command of the defense is light years from where it was.''
With all the defensive sets and blitz schemes the Cardinals use, it can get hectic out there. At least that's the way it looks.
''It's not as bad as people think,'' Minter said. ''You get in the flow of the game, sometimes I won't even be thinking I'm making calls. It's just how the game goes.
''This is my third year in this defense, so it's like I know it like the back of my hand, and you can see that out there now.''
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