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Guard Justin Pugh healthy, optimistic about Cardinals offense

Arizona Cardinals OL Justin Pugh goes through drills during the team’s mandatory minicamps Wednesday, June 12, 2019, in Tempe. (Tyler Drake/ArizonaSports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Left guard Justin Pugh wasn’t on the field for the Arizona Cardinals’ first two preseason games, the second of which featured four cringe-worthy drives by the first team offense.

A shoulder injury has sidelined Pugh since the team’s scrimmage in early August, a concerning turn of events considering his last two seasons have ended with him on the IR with back and knee injuries.

On Wednesday, Pugh said he felt healthy and planned to play in Arizona’s Week 3 preseason game at the Minnesota Vikings. He wants to get a run in alongside starters left tackle D.J. Humphries and center A.Q. Shipley, especially because he is switching from the right side of center to left.

“Obviously, we had a little injury, we kind of wanted to take our time, make sure everything was right,” Pugh said. “I feel great. I probably feel better than I did coming into camp. I’m there all day, every day just working out, rehabbing, so I feel really good.”

Pugh is also confident that the Cardinals will get things right in the starters’ most important dress rehearsal before the regular season.

He heard Raiders safety Lamarcus Joyner sniping at Arizona mid-game last Thursday, calling Arizona’s spread scheme a “pretty-boy” offense during the 33-26 Oakland victory. He caught wind of former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Rex Ryan wish for the Cardinals to fail.

Pugh doesn’t think the Cardinals have a target on their backs because of the out-of-box hiring of head coach Kliff Kingsbury, who went 35-40 at Texas Tech and doesn’t have NFL coaching experience. And he’s not concerned about a rocky start to the preseason that’s only been exacerbated by Arizona running a tasteless vanilla offense.

“We’re literally running the same plays, just different personnels or putting different window dressing on it,” Pugh said. “I think people tend to hate when things aren’t going their way. But just like I said, Rex Ryan is a TV personality now and you have to say things to get a rise out of people, so that’s just part of his job. I don’t put too much of that and I don’t put too much into a DB talking about run game.

“That’s something that is part of this league. Guys are going to talk. If you don’t have success, guys are going to keep talking so we got to go out there and shut ’em up.”

Clements sees growth in QB Murray

Cardinals pass game coordinator Tom Clements has dealt with a variety of personalities and skillsets at quarterback as an NFL mainstay from 1997-2016.

He coached Pro Bowlers like Kordell Stewart of the Steelers, and Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay.

Arizona hired Clements in as an NFL-experienced offensive mind to help shape Kingsbury’s offense around rookie quarterback Kyler Murray at the pro level, and so far, he’s seen a lot to like about the 5-foot-10 signal-caller.

“One of the things that struck me when I evaluated Kyler was unlike a lot of quarterbacks who have great athletic ability he did not leave the pocket early,” Clements said Wednesday.” He did not leave the pocket unnecessarily. He’s going to sit in the pocket, he’s going to look for the throw down the field, and if he needs to, he’s going to scramble around and try to make a play, and he has the athletic ability to do that.”

So what’s been Murray’s biggest improvement since he joined Arizona in the spring?

“I just think understanding protections and throwing hot,” Clements said. “I think if you look at his college film, they didn’t blitz him too much. So we’ve been seeing a lot of blitzes from our guys, and we saw some in the preseason. He’s getting more in tune with (protections) … and how to have an answer.”

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