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Earl Watford to start at right tackle with shot at starting job on the line

(AP photo)

TEMPE, Ariz. —  Back in June, when mini-camp was coming to its close, Earl Watford talked about 2015 being a big year for him, as it is time he establishes himself as an NFL player.

Well, if 2015 is a big year, then Thursday night’s preseason tilt with the Denver Broncos may be its biggest game.

Watford is slated to start at right tackle for the Cardinals, as he looks to show the coaches he can handle the position while pushing Bradley Sowell, who was penciled in to start at that spot while regular starter Bobby Massie serves his three-game suspension.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Watford played well at right tackle last Sunday against the Oakland Raiders, noting the competition at that spot between he and Sowell is “heating up real nice.” If he plays well Thursday, it’s possible the third-year pro could be in the lineup Week 1 when the Cardinals host the New Orleans Saints. And while it is assumed Massie will reclaim the starting job when he’s eligible, it’s possible that Watford — or whoever earns the job at first — could hold onto it if they play well.

Tuesday, Watford acknowledged how big of an opportunity this is for him. It’s not the first time he has a chance to step up and earn a role, but it may be his best.

“Yes, yes, definitely,” he said when asked if he feels like this chance to make this year a good one. “I had a chance like this last year and I didn’t seize up to it, so this is it for me.”

Given Watford’s versatility — he has practiced and been solid at four of the five positions along the offensive line — it’s possible that even if he does not grab the starting job Thursday, he will be in line for playing time over the course of this season.

But this is as direct a chance as he’s likely to have.

Watford said he likes playing right tackle, though he admitted he never could have predicted that his shot to earn a starting job in the NFL would come at the position. He has been practicing at it for a while, though, and feels like he has improved to the point where he is ready to take the opportunity and run with it.

At 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds, he has adequate size for the position. He said the biggest difference between playing tackle compared to guard is having to work in space, but noted that each position is its own animal with its own set of challenges.

“The biggest thing is working on the technique and putting myself in the best position to beat the opponent,” he said.

He did a good job of that last week against the Raiders and their star linebacker Khalil Mack, which helped him to earn this opportunity Thursday. He said he could improve on some things, but gained confidence from his performance that night.

“Everyone needs a little confidence boost once in a while, right,” he said, with a laugh. “It was good to go out there and do well and put myself in this position to hopefully start at right tackle.”

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