Undersized WR turning heads at Cards practice

Posted at 5:35 PM, May 31, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-31 20:35:52-04

Going into his second season, wide receiver J.J. Nelson is making a case for an increased role in the Cardinals' prolific offense.

Nelson, a fifth-round draft pick in 2015, has impressed in the organized team practices this month. That continued Tuesday with a couple of fine over-the-shoulder grabs in coverage, plays which displayed Nelson's hands and speed.

He doesn't have to focus as much on route running and the defensive coverages. That was last year.

"Now I can just go out and play fast," Nelson said. "I feel like (last season) was a confidence builder. Going in really not knowing what to do, as the season went along I felt like I got really confident and pretty good at knowing what I was supposed to do out there."

What Nelson lacks in size -- he's listed at 5 feet 10 and 160 pounds -- he tries to make up for with quickness and good hands.

"I always had that mindset growing up," Nelson said.

"OK, I know this guy is bigger than me, so what do I have as the advantage over him? So if he's a bigger guy, I feel like I can use my speed."

Coach Bruce Arians sees Nelson's confidence growing with each workout.

"He has a very unique skill in tracking the ball that the great ones have when the ball's coming over your opposite shoulder," Arians said. "When you have a little fast guy that can do that, you have a special one.

"Every day, he's making a big play or two," Arians added. "Getting a little bit stronger. He might be a buck-61 right now. We're going to try to get 4 more pounds on him."

Nelson caught 11 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns last season. His breakout game was Week 11 against Cincinnati, in which he had four catches for 142 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown.

The productive game came after several weeks of being inactive, four because of a shoulder injury. Nelson went on to play 11 regular-season games and appeared in both playoff games.

Nelson was asked if the Cardinals' offense fits him well.

"Definitely. Carson (Palmer), Drew (Stanton), they're always looking to throw the ball downfield," Nelson said. "If Coach calls it, they're going to throw it up there, so I love it."

Nelson's development is nothing new for young Cardinals receivers. The past two years John Brown and Jaron Brown have made marked offseason improvements going into their second NFL seasons that led to better numbers the following regular season.

"They play so much faster. They're more comfortable with what they're doing," Arians said. "If a speed guy is thinking, he's not fast. You don't want them thinking at all, and right now, those guys are playing really, really fast."

NOTES: Arians is taking a long look at young players, who are getting most of the snaps in workouts. "If you're a rookie and you're getting four reps a day and 10 practices, versus 42, you're not getting exposed enough. And our guys are getting all the exposure they can (handle). They probably would like to have a play or two off. You can't find a diamond in the rough if you're standing on the sideline." ... Arians is writing a book, but said it's still a year away from completion. He'll work on it this summer. "Some guys have been after me to do this thing for a long time, then I found out how easy it is," he said.