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Cardinals look at versatility of C Mason Cole after Justin Pugh injury

Mason Cole #64 of the Arizona Cardinals waits during the third quarter in a 34-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 16, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Second-year center Mason Cole remains in a dogfight with veteran A.Q. Shipley to win the Arizona Cardinals’ starting center position, but outside forces may take him out of that competition altogether.

A shoulder injury to left guard Justin Pugh deemed “minor” by head coach Kliff Kingsbury will keep the projected starter out potentially a couple weeks. Pugh injured the shoulder Saturday during the Red and White Practice, and following his departure, Arizona moved Cole across the left side of the line.

“Even at tackle, we moved Mason out there, get some reps there,” Kingsbury said. “He played it in college and has held his own. No question over these next few weeks, we have to see what we have up front when it comes to versatility.

“We’ve had him bump in and out (of tackle) throughout some of these practices. I think he’s a guy we’re still figuring out if he can survive out there — we have some really dominant pass-rushers in (Terrell) Suggs and Chandler (Jones), and that’s a tough look. He was game and he’s smart enough to go out there and pick it up.”

Cole is also first up at left guard with Pugh out. The Cardinals will get a look at the Michigan product there when he starts Thursday in a preseason opener against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Meanwhile, Shipley can continue impressing as he comes off an ACL injury suffered in last season’s Red and White Practice.

From what it sounds like, Shipley may have an edge on Cole at the center competition due to how much he can take off the mind of rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.

“Just his command at the line of scrimmage … it allows Kyler to focus on a lot of other things as a young player,” Kingsbury said. “I think that’s the biggest takeaway in watching A.Q. work.”

Murray’s durability

During Saturday’s scrimmage, Murray wasn’t shy about pulling the ball when he didn’t see a passing option. He busted up the middle multiple times.

Whistles blew the plays dead and tackling wasn’t permitted for any of the players.

It’s a wonder, then, how liberal Murray will be with his rushing abilities come real game action.

“If you have a dual-threat guy, that’s one of the real weapons of playing that style of offense is that if it does break down, things are usually pretty spread out, he can pick a seam and go,” Kingsbury said. “Hopefully that trend will continue. He’s got to be smart, know when the battle’s over, know when to protect yourself.”

Will Murray be tested with determining when to slide and learn how to protect himself Thursday against the Chargers?

In other words: Will he play?

“You’ll have to tune in,” Kingsbury said of the game that will be broadcast on NFL Network. “That’s good, right? Hype up the game.”

Two standouts

Kingsbury named two youngsters who stood out throughout camp and into the Saturday scrimmage.

Rookie receiver KeeSean Johnson and second-year undrafted cornerback Chris Jones look like rotation pieces, even if the latter is behind veteran Tramaine Brock and rookie Byron Murphy.

Kingsbury said Johnson has “made a ton of plays. I think the quarterbacks, all of them, have confidence in him. Does a nice job of coming back to the quarterback.”

Extra points

— Rookie receiver Andy Isabella (knee) and safety D.J. Swearinger (soft tissue) could potentially return to action in some capacity this week, though Kingsbury is not sure either will play in the game Thursday.

— Kingsbury is not concerned with kicker Zane Gonzalez, who missed three 40-plus yard field goals during the scrimmage Saturday. The head coach pointed out that one of those misses might have been a make; there was not a referee placed under the pylon that the ball may or may not have been kicked over.


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