Dealing Cards: Veldheer healthy, learning to play on right side
Mar 28, 2017, 6:03 AM | Updated: 11:25 am
CHANDLER, Ariz. — Jared Veldheer signed with the Arizona Cardinals to be their left tackle, and since 2014, that has been the position he has played for the team.
Halfway through the 2016 season, however, he suffered a torn right triceps in Week 8, and while he was out of commission the team’s 2015 first-round pick, D.J. Humphries, got a brief audition at the position.
A left tackle in college who was playing on the right side for the Cardinals, the 23-year-old Humphries played well enough to where the Cardinals were considering making the younger lineman the permanent left tackle.
That idea continued to not only persist, but ultimately it become the plan.
For Veldheer, 29, that has meant learning a position he has never played. But until he could really work on that, he had to heal.
“It’s going really good,” he said of his recovery. “I’ve got a lot of strength back in it; my right arm pretty much looks like my left arm and I’m ready to start rolling here when spring ball starts.”
The trick now is getting his new position down.
“I’ve been working a lot on right tackle stuff,” he said. “At the end of the day, whatever makes us the best line possible, that’s what I’m going to do.
“It makes our job all the better if we can be a better unit, and I’m all in for that. It’s been good, having that idea going into the offseason, that way I’ve been able to kind of prepare for that in a sense, not something that’s sprung on you at the last second.”
Preparation for right tackle, Veldheer said, involves setting up in a way that he’s never had to before, building up muscle memory. He compared it to what he went through after he hurt his right tricep, when he had to get used to doing things left-handed.
“Then when I started doing right-handed pass sets, it’s like this kind of feels like the same thing,” he said, with a chuckle.
Veldheer understands that no matter what he does now to prepare for the move, the next step in the process will come when he lines up on the field against a defender, such as linebacker Markus Golden. If nothing else, he is enjoying the challenge.
As for being comfortable on the right side, that, Veldheer admits, may never come.
“You never really get too comfortable being a tackle, in general,” he said, with a laugh.
There’s no place like home
Of all the Cardinals who were slated to hit free agency, it seemed all but certain that Andre Ellington’s chances of returning to Arizona ranked near the bottom. Yet, on March 13, he and the team agreed to a one-year contract.
Surprised? Ellington said he feels like Arizona is home, and he could not imagine being anywhere else.
As for his role, which decreased last season to the point where he had career lows in rushing attempts, rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns, Ellington said it was greater than people think.
“Even though I didn’t get on the field, I still had a significant role out on the practice field, and for them to have trust in me to try me at receiver going forward,” he said, “I got an opportunity to play a little bit of it last year towards the end of the season, which I enjoyed, but yeah, I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now.”
The topic of Ellington at receiver came up in mid-November, when the Cardinals explored the possibility while dealing with a rash of injuries at the position. At that time, head coach Bruce Arians said it was a matter of ensuring the team would have more depth, if necessary.
Ellington said the idea to switch to the position full-time was the team’s, and while acknowledging it’s an experiment said it means something to him that Arians has faith in him to get the job done.
A sixth-round pick out of Clemson in 2013, Ellington said when he first joined the team Arians said he envisioned him playing receiver later in his career. Ellington may not be late in his career now, as he enters his fifth NFL season, but he said now is a good time to make the switch.
Though he caught just 27 passes over the last two seasons, Ellington hauled in 85 his first two, so him catching the football for the Cardinals is not necessarily a foreign concept.
“Being a running back here, you’ve got to be somewhat of a receiver as well,” he said. “You’ve got to be able to catch the ball out of the backfield, run routes. It gives you that hump, and that direction you want to go as far as expanding your game.
“But if you can get out there and catch balls running routes, you’re pretty special.”
Coming up next
At this point in the offseason, most of the heavy lifting for free agency is done.
“Pretty much on to the draft,” Arians said of what happens now. “We’ll wait and see — there are a couple guys I’d love to have back; they know it. Just to fill us with good depth before the draft.”
In terms of holes the Cardinals still have left to fill, one could point to cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson as well as wide receiver. They could also use help at linebacker, on the offensive line and at safety. Oh, and quarterback, where a young option to groom for the future would not be a bad call.
Just once in four drafts with Arians as coach have the Cardinals chosen a quarterback — in 2014, when they nabbed Logan Thomas in the fourth round — and some think this might finally be the year they spend a top pick on one.
“If the right one falls,” Arians said. “I’ve been really impressed with some of them, now that I’ve met them and worked them out and there are six good arms in the draft. There’s more than just one quarterback.”