TEMPE, Ariz. – Roughly one month ago — September 1, to be exact — the Arizona Cardinals claimed tackle Bradley Sowell off waivers.
An Indianapolis Colt last season, the 6-foot-7, 315-pounder was thought to have been brought in for depth behind an inconsistent group, perhaps even as a replacement for a second-year pro like Nate Potter or Bobby Massie.
Instead, with the Oct. 2 trade that sent starting left tackle Levi Brown to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sowell will be asked to step into the starting lineup and protect quarterback Carson Palmer’s blind side.
The 24-year-old who went undrafted in 2012 thinks he’s ready.
“As ready I can be, I imagine,” he said. “I won’t know until I get out there, obviously, but all I can do is try my hardest and get out there and see what I’ve got.”
The Cardinals seem to think Sowell has plenty to offer, as no matter how much Brown struggled, they would not have turned to a former undrafted rookie if they did not think he could get the job done.
The coaching staff is familiar with Sowell — he played 10 games for head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Harold Goodwin last season. So while Sowell may not be a household name, that history has Palmer confident in the decision.
“I trust Goody; I know that Coach Goody is going to find guys to bring in that fit the system well, that fit his coaching style well,” he said. “And it’s just comforting knowing that he hand-picked him.
“He’s a guy that he had first-hand experience working with him, coaching him, improving him. So I’m very, very confident he’ll come in and play extremely well for us.”
Sowell will be joining a line that has undergone a substantial amount of change in an effort to find a group that can both protect the quarterback and pave the way for a solid running game The results this season have been mixed, as the Cardinals are tied for 13th in the NFL with 10 sacks allowed, but rank 26th in rushing yards.
While things have not necessarily been bad, they apparently were not good enough to warrant keeping the status quo. Veteran right tackle Eric Winston acknowledged change — be it due to injuries, trades or anything else — can be a detriment, but understands it’s part of the game.
“Any time you have any kind of shuffling at any position or any group you’re going to have to bring someone else in,” he said, “but at the end of the day it’s about doing your job.”
Sowell said he is “more of an athletic lineman than a power lineman,” and Arians pointed to the Ole Miss product’s athleticism is something that stands out. The head coach also said there’s been notable improvement in the lineman’s game over the last year.
“He got stronger and stronger as the year went on, matured,” he said. “Even looks bigger, stronger now than when we had him last year.”
While he may be a bit raw and untested, Sowell understands he is on the team and in the lineup because he is expected to produce, and just because he’s somewhat inexperienced does not mean he will be cut extra slack.
In fact, Arians believes turning to Sowell will only improve things.
“The problems that we’ve occurred I don’t think will get any worse, and hopefully they’re going to get better,” he said.
Arians said some of his veteran defenders have told him Sowell has a bright future in the league, and he does not have any reservations of turning the important position over to a second-year pro.
“I don’t see any drop off whatsoever, or we wouldn’t have made the move,” he said.
The move was made, and the job belongs to Sowell. How long he keeps it remains to be seen.
“Any time that a guy gets an opportunity, whether it’s from injury or whatever, he better be ready to take advantage of it,” Winston said. “That’s how I got in the league, that’s how I’ve stayed in the league.
“You don’t get many opportunities.”
This is Sowell’s, and Arians said it’s the young player’s chance to establish himself as the team’s left tackle of the present and future.
“That’s his opportunity right now, to prove to us that come January or February that we don’t need to make that look behind door number two.”