Keim, Fitzgerald helped Cardinals’ Shipley move forward after ACL injury

Aug 27, 2018, 8:54 AM | Updated: 4:25 pm

An injured Arizona Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley (53) is checked by head athletic trainer Tom Reed,...

An injured Arizona Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley (53) is checked by head athletic trainer Tom Reed, right, as Shipley walks off the field during an NFL football practice Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Heading into training camp, A.Q. Shipley already had a strong reputation in the Arizona Cardinals’ locker room.

He was the team’s only offensive lineman who played 16 games in each of the past two years. Ask any of his teammates, and he was the voice of the position group. The Cardinals had initial contract extension talks with him prior to training camp, a good sign they saw his value at center but also as a leader.

But when Shipley tore his ACL on Aug. 4 during the team’s Red & White practice, the doubts crept in.

“I mean, first couple of days were rough — first two days in particular,” Shipley told Doug & Wolf Monday on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station. “As much as it hurt knowing that I was going to be out for the season, then a wave of emotion came over me that this was the last year of my contract.

“Like I just played my last snap, possibly, in a practice. That was one of the hardest things and I think the trainers knew that, the guys knew that and they just kind of, they kept telling me, ‘It’s going to work out.’ I’m like, that’s all well and fine, but I don’t have a contract next season.”

It wasn’t until last Wednesday that Arizona showed just how much it valued Shipley. Upon general manager Steve Keim’s return from a five-week suspension stemming from his July 4 DUI that he plead guilty to, Shipley said contract extension talks immediately began despite the center’s lost 2017 season.

Two days later, the extension was official.

“You know, great show of faith on their part and also I think a testament to kind of what I’ve been able to do as a player but also in the locker room the last couple of years,” Shipley said.

Emotionally, Shipley is out of the doldrums. The support from his teammates helped the 32-year-old center take in the fate of a spoiled season for himself and look forward to helping the team.

Text messages from Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald meant a lot to the center.

“Everybody knows the legend of Larry, right? I got a text message from Larry Fitzgerald that put me back on the horse. It was inspirational but also kind of, hey listen … take a few days to feel sorry for yourself was the message, and get back on the horse and come back stronger,” Shipley told Doug & Wolf.

“Literally every single day from the time it happened, checking in on me — the two days before we had our first preseason game, I went and got surgery, he texted me that morning, texted me again that afternoon, ‘How you feeling, big fella?’ Sent me a picture of my locker from the first preseason game, ‘Hey, we miss you, big fella.’ That goes so much farther beyond him as a player.”

Shipley said his rehab is progressing, and head coach Steve Wilks said Friday that the center will begin joining the Cardinals in meeting rooms once he’s able to move around better.

“He’s a major part of what we were doing at the time, he’s a leader in that room — I still consider him to be a leader in that room,” Wilks said.

That should benefit Shipley’s replacement, rookie and third-round pick Mason Cole, who has held his own as a starter in three preseason games.

While Shipley hopes he can lend enough support to help Cole and the Cardinals with his mind this year, it could ultimately set up a key position battle heading into 2019 should the rookie perform well.

“We’ll find out what kind of a coach I am this year,” Shipley said.

“I’m going to do that but let’s also not forget that when I come back next year I’m going for my job.”

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Keim, Fitzgerald helped Cardinals’ Shipley move forward after ACL injury