The Arizona Cardinals were expecting plenty from Kenny Iwebema in 2009. With the departure of Antonio Smith, the former Iowa Hawkeye would move behind fellow second-year defensive end Calais Campbell on Arizona's depth chart.
A solid contributer on special teams as a rookie, Iwebema was looking at a larger role, following a productive off-season, which saw him focus heavily on strength training.
It was almost for naught, however, as on April 30, Iwebema's chest x-ray, a mandatory part of every NFL player's physical, revealed a shadow the size of a baseball that had not been there 14 months earlier.
The shadow was a non-malignant tumor that had grown at a extraordinary rate. A wrong hit to the chest could have stopped his heart had the growth not been detected.
"I can't even remember the last time I got an X-ray on my chest," he said. "It's a blessing the NFL does this. It might have been too late. I'm really lucky."
Because of the tumor's size, Iwebema was warned by doctors that they might have to crack his ribs or sternum to get to the problem area, potentially delaying or cancelling his season. Luckily, they were able to enter under the left pectoral muscle, collapse a lung and remove the tumor successfully just weeks ago.
Now Iwebema can return to focusing on football and can be motivated by the words of his coach, Ken Whisenhunt, who said, "anytime you see a defensive lineman contribute like he did on special teams. you get excited because you think, 'OK, this guy has some athletic ability.'
Iwebema is looking forward to the start of training camp in July and answering some questions: How will the time missed in OTA's slow his progress? What will be expected of him as the regular season nears? What are his goals going into his second season?
Has anything changed for him football-wise since his healthscare? What will he bring to the team now that he is a year older and higher on the depth chart? Does he expect any after-effects of the surgery? What will he look to accomplish in training camp to get on the same page as the rest of his teammates?
All of these questions now have a chance to be answered. With the impression he has made on the coaches so early into his career, few question Iwebema's strength and skill. And even fewer question his heart...