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Cardinals’ D.J. Humphries determined to reach full potential in 2019

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 28: John Simon #51 of the Houston Texans rushes the quarterback and is blocked by D.J. Humphries #74 of the Arizona Cardinals during a preseason game at NRG Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Houston, Texas. The Texans defeated the Cardinals 34-24. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — The road for Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries hasn’t always been the smoothest.

He was once called “Knee-deep” as a rookie, but showed flashes of his true ability when out on the field. Just as things were trending up, the injuries came, limiting the lineman to just 14 games over the past two seasons.

While some believe Humphries is yet another first-round draft choice that hasn’t panned out for Arizona in recent memory, the tackle is paying no mind to the talk as the team embarks on a new year with a new regime at the helm.

Instead, Humphries focused on showing the rest of the NFL just what kind of motor he has and how much better he can truly be.

“I’m right in there,” Humphries said when asked where he ranked in terms of NFL tackles. “Especially when we’re talking about run blocking, I’m a top-10 run-blocking tackle in the league. I don’t feel like that’s something to argue about, I feel like that’s a fact.

“As long as I can continue to bring my pass protection along like I’ve been doing, I feel like I’m trending to be one of those guys in the future that we’re looking at.”

And while it’s a contract year for the lineman, when talking to Cardinals players and coaches, it’s clear Humphries has an added drive not associated with the dollar amount on his check.

“He looks good, he looks healthy, he’s excited,” Cardinals first-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury said of Humphries.

“He knows what this year could mean for him and for us and he’s approached it that way. I was impressed by the way he handled his rehab and showed up every day in the offseason. He’s gotten better and better.”

Marcus Gilbert, who has followed Humphries from his college days, has seen the talent exuding from Humphries for years.

“With the potential that he has and the athletic, God-given ability that he has, he can walk out of here as the best left tackle in history,” Gilbert said when asked about Humphries. “I told him, ‘name me the last great left tackle that played here.’ It took him time.

“But I said that’s why they drafted you … and you show flashes of being a great and you can set yourself up for life and you can really make a name for yourself. What a big honor it would be to get your name on the Ring of Honor and he’s been practicing and had the same mentality like that this whole camp. I just want him to reach his full potential which he has been doing.”

Some of the biggest variables no one can predict, however, are injuries. Something that has haunted Humphries throughout his NFL career.

While he managed to start 13 games in 2016, Humphries played in just five and nine games in 2017 and 2018, respectively.

The injuries were nothing minor either, as Humphries dealt with multiple MCL issues.

When healthy, Humphries has shown he can be a crucial piece to the offense, especially in the run game.

“There’s not a tackle out there in the NFC besides Jason Peters or Trent Williams with that kind of footwork,” Gilbert said. “He has to utilize a lot of those God-given abilities that he has, and I think he’s very capable of being the top tackle in this league.”

In the five games he played in 2017, Humphries was rated as the fifth-best run blocker in the league by Pro Football Focus. The next season he fell to 11th in the standings, but limited his penalties to just two false starts in nine games (522 snaps). He had five total penalties in 2017.

“I told D.J. since he got here, he’s one of the most talented guys I’ve ever seen,” Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley said. “He just has to put a full season together, and I think he knows that.”

Shipley added that he saw some of the best run-blocking tapes by a tackle in the NFL from his fellow lineman against San Francisco two seasons ago, but it has got to be every day.

And while Humphries knows he needs to fine-tune his pass protection, he’s not the only one to blame from last season’s dismal results.

The Cardinals offensive line was last in nearly every category, highlighted by a dead-last ranking in pass protection. The team saw 10 different offensive line combinations and ended the season with none of its projected starters from training camp as injuries depleted the roster.

Things went bad in a hurry.

Humphries knows that, but instead of living in the past, he’s turning the page to the future and focused intently on working on his craft.

“[Tyron Smith and Trent Williams] are the guys I watch,” Humphries said. “I know just watching their film, they are trying to be the best so that’s the type of thing I mimic is making sure. I’m not trying to be a Tyron Smith, I’m not trying to be a Trent Williams.

“I’m trying to be the best version of me. And I know that that’s how those guys got to be Tyron and Trent and Jason Peters. They’re just being the best versions of themselves. They’re not trying to be nobody else and that’s exactly what I’m trying to do. Just try to perfect my skills every day.”

It’s not just his play that’s elevated, either.

While he isn’t the oldest vet in the locker room, Humphries has grasped a leadership role among his fellow teammates.

“I just encourage him to keep taking that [leadership] role,” Gilbert said. “Because he and Kyler [Murray] are going to be here a lot longer than I am if they keep it up.”


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