MM: Have you dealt with players who, unlike Smith, resented the arrival of the new star quarterback?
CN: You’d be surprised. So many people hear so much about you, and they can start to have judgmental thoughts about someone they don’t even know. It can become a bad thing. My job is not to worry about that, but to make my impression on the people I come in contact with, so that it’s a lasting positive.
MM: Do you remember facing any guys at Auburn and thinking, “He’s ready for the next level”?
CN: Patrick Peterson [former LSU cornerback who made the Pro Bowl as Arizona’s rookie return man] was by far the most NFL-ready player I played against in college. We wanted to throw away from Patrick. You can have game plans in college where you can just not throw to a side. In the NFL you can’t do that. In the NFL everybody has to be a target each and every down. In college some guys are good, some guys aren’t. In the NFL, either you’re good or you’re working to get better, because you’re gonna get exposed.
MM: How was it physically adjusting to the NFL?
CN: For basically all my life, I’ve always been able to run away from defensive linemen. That’s the biggest challenge. When the pocket collapses in the NFL… you’ve got defenders that are just as big as you, if not bigger, and running just as fast as you are. You’re playing guys like Dwight Freeney. Julius Peppers. Clay Matthews. Jared Allen. They’re so big, but they don’t lose a step when coming for the quarterback. That can be disheartening sometimes. You just have to swallow your pride.
MM: What role models do you look to as examples of how things should be done?
CN: Man, there are so many people. I was on The Dan Patrick Show and saw Kurt Warner—I have so much respect for him. Drew Brees. I don’t want to just focus on quarterbacks, because I look up to so many different players. So many guys at the Pro Bowl, like Ray Lewis. These guys are unbelievable to be around. You ask, “How do these guys, year in and year out, play to that high level?” It’s hard work. Doing what’s asked of them and more…