TEMPE, Ariz. — On March 12, the Arizona Cardinals released center Lyle Sendlein.
On Aug. 7, the team re-signed Lyle Sendlein.
And, on Sept. 8, Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians announced Sendlein would start for the team Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints.
“He came back and it was a real even battle. Q (A.Q. Shipley) didn’t really do anything to lose the battle. I think he helped us a little bit more in the running game. I think Lyle is a little bit more savvy in the pass protection, maybe. Just a little bit longer. It was neck and neck.”
That Sendlein was able to overtake Shipley is not much of an upset, even if it is a bit of a surprise. Though he started 109 games over eight NFL seasons, including 33 (including playoffs) over the last two, the veteran missed all of the team’s offseason work and then, after joining the team during training camp, never saw any work with the first-team offense during preseason games.
Yet, he showed the coaching staff enough to move past Shipley, a free agent pickup from the Indianapolis Colts. The 31-year-old Sendlein says being named the starter does not mean he’s arrived, so to speak.
“It’s still in progress,” he said of earning the job. “There’s a week of work before the first game. But excited for the opportunity to go out there and play on Sunday.”
About a month ago when he returned to the team on a one-year contract, Sendlein said he had been promised nothing other than the chance to compete. He certainly wanted to earn the starting job — he’s been a starter for pretty much the duration of his career — but it was not going to be handed to him.
That concept made sense because, while Sendlein was not short on experience in the team’s system, he was coming off one of the worst seasons of his career. ProFootballFocus graded him as the 40th-best center in the entire NFL for 2014, ahead of only the St. Louis Rams’ Scott Wells.
Sendlein was battling various injuries throughout the season, though, and now healthy, he has looked more like the player who was a steadying force on different incarnations of the line, one of which helped the team get to a Super Bowl.
Needless to say, his insertion into the lineup shouldn’t cause too big of a ripple.
“He and I have played 20 something games together, maybe more,” QB Carson Palmer said. “So same offense, same system, same calls. Shouldn’t be too big a transition.”
Sendlein said nothing has really changed in the offense. Carson Palmer is still the quarterback, while Ted Larsen and Jonathan Cooper are filling the guard spots. He noted that he couldn’t say when he made the leap from backup to starter or what, if anything specific, he did to get the job, adding that his main thing since signing was getting back into football shape.
That, and competing, which thus far seems to have gone pretty well for him.
“Competition does nothing but make everyone better, and that’s what I came here to do is compete and try to make the Cardinals’ offensive line as competitive as they can be,” he said.
Now, barring any unforseen events transpiring over the next handful of days, Sendlein will run out of the tunnel as the Week 1 starter for the eighth consecutive season. Given where he was just a month ago, it’s been quite a journey.
“It feels good, that’s why you play the game,” he said when asked how it feels to be the starter after what he’s been through. “I never enjoyed being on the bench, so I always tried to stay in the game.”
After saying that, Sendlein was reminded how even just a couple months ago he was unemployed, not even in the game.
“True,” he said, with bit of a chuckle. “That’s no fun.”
It’s worth pointing out that just because Sendlein is starting now does not mean he will be when the season is over. It’s his job to lose, of course, and if history is any indication odds are that will not happen. But regardless of how things play out, what it took to get to this point is something that has led to Sendlein having a bit of a different perspective on where his career is at.
“You always have to appreciate your NFL job, that doesn’t last long — I learned how quickly it could be taken away from you as well,” he said. “Yeah, there’s a great appreciation for having an opportunity to come back.”
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