TEMPE, Ariz. — When the Arizona Cardinals take the field Monday night against the San Diego Chargers, their offensive line will boast three new starters from the group that finished last season.
One thing they will not have, however, is doubters.
Over the course of the offseason and training camp, a line made up of Jared Veldheer at left tackle, Ted Larsen at left guard, Lyle Sendlein at center, Paul Fanaika at right guard and Bobby Massie at right tackle took shape and earned confidence.
So much confidence, in fact, that few people are even talking about the offensive line as the season is about to begin. That’s the idea.
“We want to go out there and do our job and then have you talking about all the touchdowns that the offense is scoring, all the explosive pass plays, all the running plays,” Veldheer said. “If they’re not talking about us it means we’re doing our job.”
Silence is golden.
“You never want to hear your offensive line mentioned whatsoever, especially individually,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “They love that part. They’re a group and they’ll stay a group.
“I feel very solid, very comfortable with our offensive line and the depth of it.”
Those words, or at least some similar to them, have been uttered in the past. However, often times they could be easily dismissed as coachspeak, with whoever was in charge not wanting to announce to the world how concerned he was that the running backs wouldn’t find holes and the quarterbacks would be running for their lives.
But there’s something about this season, and this group of linemen in particular, that gives off a different vibe.
In Veldheer, the Cardinals have a 27-year-old who it signed to a five-year contract because it believes, as many others do, that the mammoth 6-foot-8, 321-pound former Raider is one of the better tackles in the game and will anchor the offensive line for years to come.
And on the other side of the line is Massie, a third-year pro who started every game as a rookie in 2012 — and played very well down the stretch — but lost his job the following year only to gain it back this offseason. The 6-foot-6, 316-pound player out of Mississippi was highly thought of coming out of college, and appears to have finally come into his own as an NFL player.
“I think you see Carson (Palmer) smiling a lot more, which is the biggest thing,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said of what having reliable tackles like Veldheer and Massie does. “And I’ll be smiling a lot more, hopefully.”
Last season, Palmer was sacked 41 times and hit countless others. The protection appeared to be much better in the small doses the preseason had to offer, and not coincidentally, he has looked like a better quarterback.
“With us, we’re just going to go out and play,” Massie said. “Keep Carson upright; give him some time, because he can make the throws if we give him some time. And open holes for running backs. We’ve got a nice little stable, so we’ll just keep working.”
Of course, how the line, which also includes Sendlein, who has been a mainstay at center since 2007, Fanaika, who started every game at right guard last season, and Larsen, a veteran who has experience at multiple positions, fares during the regular season and possibly playoffs will ultimately define their 2014, but up to this point each starter has been fairly impressive. Three of them earned their spots by playing during training camp and preseason, and Veldheer said the success had by the offensive line as a whole has led to the increased confidence.
“The more you play like that, you just kind of develop that swagger as a unit,” he said.
Time together has served the line well, and should continue to do so as the season wears on.
“Once we get out there in real game situations we’re just going to learn off each other and feed off each other on what fake calls,” he said. “There’s a certain level of things you can do with someone you trust more than someone who you don’t.”
Massie echoed the sentiment.
“That’s just something you’ve got to build over time,” he said of the necessary continuity. “It’s not going to happen in a week. We built our camaraderie all through OTAs and minicamps and through training camp.”
While it is possible injuries or ineffectiveness could force changes along the line, right now the conversation — if there is even one — is about just how good the Cardinals could be at a spot that traditionally has been anything but.
Talent plus continuity could equal long-term success, and when you look at the ages of the team’s key linemen, it’s tough not to wonder what could be.
The oldest of the team’s starting linemen, Sendlein, is 30, Fanaika is 28, Veldheer and Larsen are 27 and Massie is 25. And though Cooper is currently second-string, the 2013 first-round pick is just 24 and still projects to be part of the team’s future.
“You look at San Fran’s O-line, how long they’ve played together and how good they’ve been,” Massie said. “We can do the same thing.”