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Not according to plan: Cardinals’ injury-battered O-line holding up

(AP Photo/Matt York)

TEMPE, Ariz. — These aren’t the offensive linemen Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was looking for.

They’re the ones he’s got with four games left in coach Steve Wilks’ first year at the helm.

From left to right, Arizona is expected to start Korey Cunningham, Colby Gossett, Mason Cole, Oday Aboushi and Will Holden this Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

The team’s ninth starting offensive line combination this year features three rookies along the left side of the line, a six-year vet in Aboushi and a second-year pro signed off the street two weeks back in Holden. The group hasn’t withered when faced with pressure.

“We’ve put that on film. We’ve shown that we can do it and we’re capable,” Aboushi said.

“Especially with all these guys, the new guys we have, I think it’s an opportunity to play and put on solid film-work. It’s not only going to be reviewed by the Cardinals. I think at this point a lot of guys understand that they need to play for themselves as far as them putting their pride on the line and putting on their best foot forward. At the same time, if you go out there and do that, you give us an opportunity to win.”

For the most part, injuries have been the main culprit to the revolving door along the line.

“This is probably the most I’ve seen,” Wilks said of the Cardinals’ injury bug. “We can’t worry about what we don’t have this time of year.”

Left guard Mike Iupati and left tackle D.J. Humphries hit the injured reserve list this week, leaving Arizona with none of the projected starting offensive linemen from the beginning of training camp.

This, after the Cardinals’ priority in the offseason was to reshape the line. At center, A.Q. Shipley returned as a stabilizing force, but Keim had to find answers on the right side in signing free agency.

Keim began that process by re-negotiating left guard Mike Iupati’s contract to keep he and Humphries on the left side. The GM then inked guard Justin Pugh and tackle Andre Smith, making for four first-round picks on the line, plus Shipley.

While Keim bought low on Pugh and Smith, who had both battled injuries in 2017, his gamble didn’t quite pay off this year. Pugh battled a hand injury before his season ended with an MCL tear.

Likewise, Humphries ended last season recovering from an MCL issue in his knee — his latest injury to the same knee is not yet diagnosed, Wilks said.

Smith missed games in the early part of the schedule with an elbow issue but before and after those games struggled when on the field. Arizona eventually waived him, expecting Cunningham was ready to play right tackle.

Instead, Cunningham has held his own at left in place of Humphries, as has the rest of the new group.

Some credit goes to offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, who has called more screen plays to alleviate the pass rushing problems caused by the Cardinals’ opponents.

Arizona has also improved in the run game.

In seven games under former offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Arizona averaged 64.6 rushing yards per game. Under Leftwich, that’s jumped to 115.6. The Cardinals’ linemen have credited their position coaches and one another for being ready to step in for their peers at a moment’s notice.

“It’s talking. It’s asking questions,” Aboushi said as the team looks forward to running out another new lineup. “It’s continuing to ask questions, whether you think it’s a dumb question or a smart question. For guys to be an open book and let us know what they need help in and what we can get better at.”

Added Cole: “Guys have just done such a good job of being ready. I used Colby as an example last week, just playing his first snaps in the NFL on the road at Green Bay. Just guys being in their books, being ready.”

This is how the offensive line has looked for the Cardinals at the beginning of training camp through what it is projected to look like Sunday at home against the Lions.

Preseason projected

LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: A.Q. Shipley
RG: Justin Pugh
RT: Andre Smith

Week 1

LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Mason Cole
RG: Justin Pugh
RT: Andre Smith

Weeks 2 – Week 4 – Smith out with elbow injury

LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Mason Cole
RG: Justin Pugh
RT: John Wetzel

Weeks 5-6 (same as Week 1) – Pugh out with hand injury

LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Mason Cole
RG: Justin Pugh
RT: Andre Smith

Week 7  – Iupati out with back injury, Vujnovich out with hamstring injury

LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: John Wetzel
C: Mason Cole
RG: Daniel Munyer
RT: Andre Smith

Week 8 – Iupati returns

LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Mason Cole
RG: John Wetzel
RT: Andre Smith

Bye

Week 10 – Iupati out again with back injury, Vujnovich returns

LT: D.J. Humphries
LG: Jeremy Vujnovich
C: Mason Cole
RG: Justin Pugh
RT: Andre Smith

Week 11 – Pugh hits IR with MCL tear, Humphries out with a knee injury and Iupati returns

LT: Korey Cunningham
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Mason Cole
RG: Oday Aboushi
RT: Andre Smith

Week 12

LT: Korey Cunningham
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Mason Cole
RG: Jeremy Vujnovich
RT: Andre Smith

Week 13 – Vujnovich to IR with hamstring injury, Cardinals sign Holden

LT: Korey Cunningham
LG: Mike Iupati
C: Mason Cole
RG: Oday Aboushi
RT: Will Holden

Projected Week 14 – Cardinals place Iupati and Humphries on IR

LT: Korey Cunningham
LG: Colby Gossett
C: Mason Cole
RG: Oday Aboushi
RT: Will Holden

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