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With a chip on his shoulder, Cardinals’ Justin Pugh eager to prove himself

Arizona Cardinals offensive linemen Justin Pugh (67) and Andre Smith (71) walk on the Tempe practice facility field on Tuesday, June 5, 2018 (Logan Newman/Arizona Sports).

Everything seems to be falling into place for the Arizona Cardinals as they near the end of mandatory minicamp.

They have a new head coach in Steve Wilks, competition in the quarterback’s room and an offensive line that is ready to show improvement after allowing 123 hits on the quarterback in 2017 — second-most in the NFL behind the Cleveland Browns

Signed in March to a five-year contract, guard Justin Pugh is perhaps the most eager to change the narrative from last season.

“I definitely have that chip on my shoulder,” Pugh told 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station’s Doug & Wolf on Thursday. “I want to go out there and prove (myself) and I want to go out and win games.”

Drafted by the New York Giants in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, Pugh’s five-year tenure in New York was overshadowed by his recent struggle with injuries.

Pugh missed just four games in his first three seasons, but an MCL sprain in 2016 and back spasms in 2017 forced the guard to miss 13 games in two years.

A familiar narrative for Pugh this offseason and when he signed with the Cardinals was that he is injury prone, something he believes comes with the territory of leaving for a new team.

“I think it is just a fan’s way of coping with a player leaving or a player not playing well or missing a few games,” Pugh said. “I don’t think I am injury prone. Look at how many games I’ve played over the years I’ve been in the league and I think I’ve done pretty well.”

Pugh will line up at right guard alongside fellow free agent signing Andre Smith, with A.Q. Shipley at center followed by Mike Iupati and D.J. Humphries on the left.

Though only together for a short time, Pugh said the offensive line is gelling in all the right ways.

“I love this group, everyone is great in the room. The demeanor, the way we go out there and work,” Pugh said. “We have a lot of veteran guys in the room, I’m the young guy at six years and D.J. (Humphries) is the baby of the group. I love the way they come to work and the way they prepare.”

Despite becoming a cohesive unit, Pugh and the rest of the offensive line are still unsure of who they will be blocking for come fall.

While Sam Bradford remains at the top of the depth chart, first-round draft pick Josh Rosen has impressed early on.

“When he walked into the huddle, the way he carried himself, it was one of the most impressive things I have seen,” Pugh said of Rosen. “He came in there with a swagger, a demeanor, a confidence that you look to see in a quarterback and then he went out there and started to execute and make some beautiful throws.

“Then Sam Bradford comes in this week and starts throwing darts. You start to realize why we have some competition in our quarterback room, which is a great thing.”

But despite his natural ability, there is one thing that bothers Pugh about the former UCLA star.

“Right now he’s got a terrible haircut,” Pugh said. “I was back on the East Coast that week we had off and he was like ‘do you have a barber?’ and I’m like ‘man, it’s been two weeks and you still haven’t gotten your haircut? Come on man.'”

Regardless of their appearance, Pugh’s mission remains simple: Protect whoever lines up under center.

“Our job is to minimize any hits on the quarterback, make sure we have a good running game to take pressure off the quarterback,” Pugh said. “That’s the blueprint for success for us.”

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