Injured Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley is ‘heartbeat’ of O-line

Aug 6, 2018, 2:02 PM | Updated: Aug 7, 2018, 12:05 pm
Arizona Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley waits to snap the ball during an NFL football game against th...
Arizona Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley waits to snap the ball during an NFL football game against the Washington Redskins, Sunday, Dec. 17, 2017, in Landover, Md. (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)
(AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Cardinals starting center A.Q. Shipley suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in Saturday’s Red & White Scrimmage at University of Phoenix Stadium, coach Steve Wilks said Monday. Shipley will miss the rest of the season. Rookie Mason Cole, the team’s 2018 third-round pick (No. 97), will likely replace him, but Wilks said the team could also look outside for help.

“Coach [OC Mike] McCoy said it best today,” said guard Justin Pugh, who signed with Arizona as a free agent last spring after five seasons with the New York Giants. “He’s the heartbeat of the offensive line. Definitely tough news to hear from him and knowing everything he has been through throughout his career. It’s an evil of this game. You don’t want to see happen, and when it happens to one of your leaders, it definitely hurts.”

“I didn’t watch much Cardinal football last year, playing in the NFL on the East Coast, but when you get into this building you realize who runs things and who does things the right way. A.Q. is one of those guys.”

Wilks said it was hard to pinpoint how Shipley got hurt.

“It was contact,” Wilks said. “We ran it back about 12, 15 times and really couldn’t see anything malicious or anybody that fell into his leg. I think it really just got caught up in the turf and he was engaged and he said he heard it pop.”

Shipley limped off the field and was examined inside a tent on the sidelines for privacy. Teammates D.J. Humphries and Larry Fitzgerald both ducked inside the tent to check on Shipley and Fitzgerald emerged with a look of disappointment on his face. After a few minutes, Shipley exited the tent and was carted off the field to the locker room.

“Incredibly hard to see a guy like that go down,” said Cole, who had been takings reps at center with the second team. “I learned a lot from him my first few months here and still will learn, but I’m confident I can fill in and hopefully play as good as he has. I think that’s why they drafted me here is if something like this happened. It obviously happened sooner than anyone thought.”

Cole, 22, started 51 consecutive games at Michigan. He started his first two seasons at left tackle, switched to center in 2016, then went back to tackle for his senior season. He was the first true freshman in Michigan program history to start a season opener on the offensive line.

“He has a proven track to be able to come in and be successful,” Wilks said.

The Cardinals have veterans all around Cole to shepherd him through the process, with Pugh and Mike Iupati at guard, D.J. Humphries and Andre Smith at tackle, and Sam Bradford at quarterback, but Cole must get the offense set and make the line calls, traditional roles for a center.

“We know what he can bring to the table,” Pugh said. “He’s very smart, he has played in a lot of games, a lot of big games against some really good competition. [We’ve got to] just make sure we communicate — overcommunicate if necessary. I can help him with a little bit of experience. I started Day 1 as a rookie. It’s a different kind of pressure going out there and playing in the NFL vs. playing in college but I know he’s prepared for it.

“Mentally is going to be his biggest challenge. For me it was more physical. I was out there playing tackle. I obviously had to know the playbook and know what I had to do. The center has got to know what everyone has to do.”

Cole does not think that playing tackle last season will be a hindrance because he has been playing center with the Cardinals.

“Coming from Michigan and [Jim] Harbaugh’s staff and Harbaugh’s offense, that gives me a little bit of an upper hand here, too, just in terms of learning the offense and knowing what to do,” he said. “[I’m] very comfortable with line calls.”

Wilks said he noticed how Shipley’s injury deflated the team on Saturday. Both he and Pugh called it a lesson for Arizona.

“It happens and I think you have to quickly hit the reset button,” Wilks said. “We’ve got to bounce back. It’s part of the season. It’s part of how things go throughout the year. We’ve just got to keep pressing.”

Daniel Munyer and Evan Boehm will rotate second-team reps at center, Wilks said, with Greg Pyke another possibility.

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