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Protecting QB Carson Palmer paramount for Arizona Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (3) throws under pressure from Oakland Raiders middle linebacker Cory James (57) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – If the Arizona Cardinals are to be successful in 2017 several things need to happen and topping that list is the quarterback play.

Carson Palmer is 37. He’ll turn 38 in December. And while he’s under contract for next season and his head coach believes he can play a handful more years after that, Palmer won’t make it to 2018 or beyond if he endures another season like 2016.

“It’s completely on us,” left tackle D.J. Humphries said, referring to the offensive line.

Palmer was sacked 40 times last season, the most since 2013, his first season with the Cardinals.

Just four other quarterbacks were sacked more: Tyrod Taylor (42), Andy Dalton (41), Andrew Luck (41) and Russell Wilson (41); and Wilson was the only one to lead his team, Seattle, to the playoffs.

In addition, the Cardinals’ offensive line allowed the third-most quarterback hits, 127; that unit’s highest total in at least eight years.

So the message this season is a simple one.

“Either you protect him or I’m not going to protect you,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said this week. “We got to do a better job because we know (Palmer) makes us go. Without him, it’s an uphill battle. With him, the sky’s the limit.”

OK, then how does the offensive line protect Palmer better? Where does it start?

“Keep the same five guys out there, hopefully. Why do you got to ask that? Knock on wood. But that’s the key to it,” Goodwin said.

Injuries hit the offensive line hard last season, perhaps one of the bigger reasons why—that and special teams—the Cardinals went from 13 wins, an NFC West division title and appearance in the conference championship game to seven wins and no postseason appearance.

The Cardinals started 10 different players along the offensive line in 2016.

Breaking it down by position highlights the struggles even further: There were five different right guards, three different right and left tackles plus two different left guards. Center A.Q. Shipley never missed a game; In fact, he missed only three snaps all season, playing 1,148 out of a possible 1,151.

“I’d like them to stay healthy,” Palmer said. “That was something we all wanted to see but things happened unfortunately (last year). We hit that injury bug up there.

“But the most important thing is availability and those guys staying healthy. It’s dumb luck if you stay healthy. There’s nothing you can do. Those guys train extremely hard. They all take care of themselves. The best thing that those guys can do is to be available and we’ve been very fortunate so far.”

Palmer knocked on the side of the podium he was standing behind as he uttered those final words.

In addition to health, head coach Bruce Arians mentioned consistent play, which he’s seen through four weeks of training camp and two preseason games.

“So far so good in when they’ve been out there against other people. Nobody got really close to Carson except the one long pass (last week against the Raiders), but play (has been) solid,” he said.

Again, though, it starts with availability.

Humphries returned to practice this week after dealing with a hamstring injury. He’s expected to see his first action here in the preseason Saturday when the Bears visit.

Right tackle Jared Veldheer missed one practice early in camp and right guard Mike Iupati missed a handful of reps this week though that didn’t appear to be injury related.

A year ago, the Cardinals used five different offensive line combinations over the last seven weeks of the season and had eight overall. Those aren’t good numbers.

“We can’t have a whole bunch of rotations going in week-in and week-out. The more you play together, the better you get,” Goodwin said. “I think they understand the urgency. We’ve been talking about it all offseason, we’ve been talking about it all of training camp so hopefully we have enough pride to step up and do a good job.”

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