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After a rookie season labeled ‘inactive’, Cardinals’ D.J. Humphries ready to compete

Arizona Cardinals guard Jonathan Cooper, left, and offensive tackle D.J. Humphries clean out their lockers, Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Tempe, Ariz. The Cardinals lost to the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship football game to end their season. (AP Photo/Matt York)
LISTEN: Bruce Arians, Cardinals head coach

Last April, the Arizona Cardinals selected offensive tackle D.J. Humphries with the 24th pick of the NFL Draft.

Many haven’t thought of Humphries since that day.

Humphries was one of four first-round picks not to sniff the field on an NFL Sunday in 2015, joining Jacksonville OLB Dante Fowler, Chicago WR Kevin White and Baltimore WR Breshad Perriman, who all missed the season with injury issues. Humphries was healthy, but was designated as ‘inactive’ for all 18 Cardinals contests including the playoffs.

But that doesn’t mean one can hastily label Humphries a “bust.” In fact, his head coach, Bruce Arians, saw tremendous growth from the former Florida Gator.

“D.J. has really improved,” Arians told Bickley and Marotta Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “I would never tell him, but I would have played D.J. without hesitation in the second half of the season.”

When asked if Humphries might be a starter at right tackle in 2016, Arians was direct.

“I would anticipate that.”

Humphries found himself hanging out near Arians’ doghouse during OTAs last spring. The coach nicknamed him “Knee Deep” — as in how far his foot needed to be up the rookie’s backside in hopes of motivating him.

Arians’ comments Monday indicate that’s no longer Humphries’ moniker.

“He’s gotten better and better and he’s so young and athletic,” he said. “If he just gets in that weight room like I know he will, he’ll be fine.”

Arians isn’t the only one that has noticed Humphries stepping up.

“He’s come a long way, he’s definitely come a long way,” teammate Jonathan Cooper said. “He always works hard, but understanding the aspect of being able to give more, and give effort and showing a the passion and love for the game. That’s where he’s made the most strides.”

Toiling away at practice every day for months without seeing the field on Sunday has to be hard for any player, but Humphries took in the whole experience.

“Bittersweet, man,” he said. “I got to be a part of a great thing and learn a lot of great things from a lot of people, but I had to swallow a pill that I wasn’t used to having to swallow — my pride. Learning that I wasn’t ready, I had to sit out and learn for awhile.”

Since he left Florida after his junior season, 2015 was basically a senior redshirt season for Humphries, used to learn the rigors of the NFL and the importance of preparation. It has led to an increased hunger for playing time. He figures to be in the mix for playing time at right tackle, although the exact position isn’t important to him.

“I’m competing at any spot on the offensive line, I’m just trying to get on the grass,” he said. “I don’t care if it’s tight end, I don’t really care, I’m just trying to get on the grass. Whatever I’ve got to do to help this team next year, that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Humphries explained that he’s had all his practice footage kept on an iPad, dating all the way back to training camp, and even he is pleased with the progress.

“It’s light years (different),” he said. “Just the little stuff, from how fast I’m moving my hands to how I’m jogging to the line and stuff.”

Bobby Massie, who started the last 14 games at right tackle following a two-game suspension, is an unrestricted free agent. Most experts don’t expect him back in 2016, which could open the door for Humphries, who appears ready for the challenge.

“It just took me a little longer than most, I guess I could say. It’s starting to click for me.”

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