A.Q. Shipley injury offers Cardinals C Evan Boehm a shot at redemption
TEMPE, Ariz. — Injuries often create opportunities in the NFL, but few players experience as dramatic a shift in potential outcomes as interior lineman Evan Boehm has this preseason. When training camp began, there were more than a few analysts who wondered if the 2016 fourth-round pick would even make the 53-man roster, Boehm included.
With center A.Q. Shipley injured and lost for the season, Boehm is instead poised to become a critical part of the rotation.
“The biggest thing Evan brings is just the flexibility of being able to play center and guard,” coach Steve Wilks said Monday after practice. “When you start trying to shape your 53[-man roster], those are some of the combinations you look for, guys that can give you position flex. That’s very intriguing.”
Once considered the possible center of the future, the 2016 fourth-round pick didn’t show much in his first two NFL seasons. He was shifted first to right guard where he struggled, and then to left guard, where he began 2018 camp on the second team alongside rookie center Mason Cole.
When Shipley suffered a season-ending torn ACL in the Red & White Practice and Daniel Munyer struggled at center in the team’s first preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers, Boehm was called upon to reprise his college position, the one at which he feels most comfortable and the one he still hopes to play.
Unlike Munyer’s snaps, Boehm’s against the New Orleans Saints on Friday were crisp and on point. The protection of the entire second unit improved dramatically over the first game, and coach Steve Wilks came away impressed.
“He improved as well as the whole offensive line,” Wilks said as he looked forward to Sunday’s game in Dallas against the Cowboys. “It’s going to be a good test again this week, going against a pretty good defensive front so we’ll see how exactly we perform but I was pleased with his performance.”
Boehm said the performance against the Saints was the culmination of the progress he feels he has made throughout camp.
“I always knew I could play here,” he said. “I know I have another level where I can play but it’s the confidence within yourself that you have to find and go out and play with and that lacked a little bit.
“I was thinking too much. I wasn’t playing the way I normally play. Now I’m playing with confidence. I’m not thinking. I’m taking knowing steps instead of thinking steps.”
It’s rare to have a rookie serve in a mentor role, but Boehm admits playing alongside Cole for the first half of camp helped. Cole said it was a two-way street.
“We both played center so if I came up and didn’t know something, he was there to help me and if I didn’t know something he was there to help me,” Cole said. “It was a really good connection there. I didn’t really expect [to mentor Boehm] but playing center, you fall into that position no matter who you are because you’ve got to know so much about the offense.”
Boehm said it also helped to play guard because it gave him a different perspective.
“At guard, you can see the line a lot more; you can see the picture a lot more,” he said. “The more confident I got, the better I started playing throughout camp and the worry went away quick after getting those reps.”
Boehm knows there is work to do with two preseason games remaining before final cuts. He isn’t taking a roster spot for granted, but he said he felt “comfortable” against the Saints and he insists he is in a much better mental state than he was a year ago, thanks to coaching, Cole, “family, praying and just sayin’, ‘screw it. Let’s go play. Let’s go have fun.’
“It’s a job, but at the same time it’s a fun job,” Boehm said. “I just want to be on the team. Put me somewhere. Let me play. I’ve got a shot and I have to make the most of it. I’ve got to keep on proving the coaches right and show them what I am capable of doing.”