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  • With his stellar play on special teams and defense during the preseason and in training camp, Zeke Turner earned a spot on the Arizona Cardinals roster.
    Photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals
    With his stellar play on special teams and defense during the preseason and in training camp, Zeke Turner earned a spot on the Arizona Cardinals roster.
  • With his stellar play on special teams and defense during the preseason and in training camp, Zeke Turner earned a spot on the Arizona Cardinals roster.
    Photo courtesy of the Arizona Cardinals
    With his stellar play on special teams and defense during the preseason and in training camp, Zeke Turner earned a spot on the Arizona Cardinals roster.

With The Arizona Cardinals, Zeke Turner Continues To Play The Underdog

Zach Sparks
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September 18, 2018

Former Safety From Pasadena Gets A Shot In The NFL

For former Pasadena resident Zeke Turner, a career in the National Football League was always in the cards, even if no one else believed.

He played three years of varsity football at Glen Burnie High School, lining up at safety and at running back, but he didn’t receive any scholarship offers from Division 1 programs. After parlaying a six-month stint at Los Angeles Pierce, a junior college, into an offer from Washington in the Pac-12 conference, he didn’t get drafted.

But he knew what others didn’t know.

After making the Arizona Cardinals final roster as an undrafted free agent in August, the 6-foot-2, 214-pound Turner is ready to prove that he belongs in the NFL.

“Expectations were that I was definitely going to be drafted, but that didn’t happen,” Turner said. “I was definitely upset the rest of that day, but I eventually got over it. Either way, I was going to have to get back to work and be the underdog that I have always been and find a way.”

During training camp and the preseason with the Cardinals, Turner earned praise for his plays on special teams, from being on the front line on kickoff returns to protection duties on punts. On defense, he was moved from safety to linebacker.

“Going from safety to linebacker, you got to have more of a downhill mentality,” Turner said. “You have to make decisions quicker with reading offensive guards pulling. At safety, you could take your time reading the play and get back, because you’re not really the front line of defense during the run or the pass.”

Brian Henderson coached Turner during his junior season at Glen Burnie High School in 2012, using him as a hybrid safety-linebacker. Henderson remembers Turner for being coachable and for his game-changing plays.

“He had speed, he had power, he could recognize formations and tendencies,” Henderson said. “He was one of those rare players who had all the qualities you look for.”

Turner doesn’t have to look far to find another player who made a similar transition. Deone Bucannon, a starting linebacker for the Cardinals, played safety in college. With the Cardinals, Bucannon has been a disruptive force who can sack the quarterback but also cover running backs and tight ends.

During a September 3 press conference, Cardinals head coach Steve Wilks mentioned Turner’s position change when asked about rookies making the roster.

“I can start with Zeke and what he showed in the last game, just his ability to step up at a new position that was really foreign to him, and we just threw him in the mix,” Wilks said. “Later in training camp, the physicality is there. The guy’s smart. He can run, change directions, and he showed up on special teams.”

With those traits, Turner likened himself to a Swiss Army Knife.

“I love to tackle. I love seeing the ball and running to it,” Turner said. “Aggressive, you could say. Being in the Pac-12, I definitely improved upon my covering skills, so just trying to do it all from a coverage standpoint and a tackling standpoint.”

From high school to college, Turner studied the skilled safeties of different eras: Ronnie Lott, Sean Taylor, Brian Dawkins, Eric Berry and Harrison Smith.

That dedication was evident to JoJo McIntosh, who split time with Turner last season for the Washington Huskies. Even though neither player secured a starting safety spot during their respective first years with Washington, they formed a bond, watching film together and seeing who could deliver the hardest hits.

“Me and Zeke, we grew together and kept each other accountable,” McIntosh said. “Every time he was on the field, he had a presence about him. He was out there killing guys. I had no doubt Zeke was going to make it to the NFL, even when he went undrafted.”

Under Wilks, a first-year head coach, and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb, Turner thinks he is in a good place to develop.

“It’s a very disciplined defense,” Turner said. “Every man has an assignment and they expect every man to do their job and not freelance or do what they think might be the right thing.”

With the Cardinals, Turner will “keep grinding and getting better,” which is the same advice he gave for any youth athletes with NFL aspirations.

“Just put your head down and block out the outside noise because there are going to be doubters from every corner,” Turner said. “People aren’t going to think that you’re going to be able to make it, but just stay focused on what you want to get done and I promise it will come true.”


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