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Cardinals OT D.J. Humphries wants to keep ‘pretty-boy football’ together

Kenyan Drake #41 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates with DJ Humphries #74 after scoring his third touchdown of the game against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at State Farm Stadium on December 15, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. Cardinals won 38-24. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. — D.J. Humphries entered the 2019 season needing to prove he could be one of the most reliable left tackles in the NFL. To do so, he’d have to remain healthy.

One game remains, and the Arizona Cardinals’ 2015 first-round pick has held up after finishing 2017 and 2018 on the IR with knee injuries.

Humphries hasn’t been shy about voicing his hope that the Cardinals bring him back, whether that be via extension or when free agency hits in March.

For a starter along an offensive line that exceeded expectations protecting a first-year quarterback and working under a first-year NFL head coach, there’s reason to believe Arizona might have mutual feelings.

“I was calling ourselves the Jackson Five. I’m telling them I’m 100% little Michael,” Humphries said Friday. “I’m the youngest so I have to be little Michael. And they don’t like that because nobody wants to be Tito, nobody wants to be Jermaine.

“But those are my guys, man. They made this thing so easy this year, made it so fun, made it so refreshing. This is probably my favorite room I’ve ever been a part of. We got to find a way to keep this band together.”

Prioritizing spending will be key for the Cardinals, who have plenty of holes to fill. Both tackle spots could be atop a checklist for general manager Steve Keim.

The group at hand proved a lot of doubters wrong in 2019, but a top-heavy offensive tackle draft crop might be tempting for Arizona, which is all but certain to land a top-10 pick. The team mostly rode untested Justin Murray opposite Humphries this season after a season-ending knee injury knocked Marcus Gilbert out prior to Week 1.

All three of those tackles, plus Jordan Mills, are free agents. So are starting center A.Q. Shipley and reserve guard Max Garcia.

A philosophy shift by Kingsbury after Week 4 of the season saw a struggling Air Raid offense look more toward the ground. That was not only because of a talented trio of running backs who carried the baton through different segments of the season, but because of a relatively healthy offensive line led by assistant coach Sean Kugler.

Heading into Week 17, the Cardinals are second in run-game efficiency, according to Football Outsiders. They are behind only the Baltimore Ravens by averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

Arizona has also been stout stopping opponents on the ground, something Humphries also pointed out when asked about Oakland Raiders safety LaMarcus Joyner’s preseason comments. During a mid-game interview, he told ESPN’s Lisa Salters that he wanted to run the Cardinals’ “pretty-boy football” out of the NFL.

“I would like to see where all those teams are, that were talking all that (expletive),” Humphries said. “I would like to see where they rank in their run-stop defense. I would like to see where their offense ranks in rushing … since they play old-man, tough football and we’re playing pretty-boy football. I would really like to see that now that we’re at the end of the season.

“That would be interesting to see because everybody had a lot of (expletive) to say. We got out there and run the ball down their (expletive) throat and everybody’s quiet.”

Oakland, for what it’s worth, is 14th in the NFL at 4.3 yards per carry and has allowed the seventh-most points per game (26.9), just a spot behind the Cardinals (27.4).

Joyner’s preseason comments were followed by ESPN analyst Rex Ryan expressing hope that Arizona’s “basketball on grass” offense got “smoked.”

Ryan also said the Cardinals would have to get the running game going — something they obviously did.

That evolution built credibility for Kingsbury among NFL veterans like Humphries, who said Friday that his head coach’s willingness to adapt and accept what he didn’t know impressed him.

“That’s so refreshing from him when you ask him something and he’s like, ‘I’m not sure. I’ll get back to you,'” Humphries said. “That type of energy from him is like the type of stuff you can build with.”

On the flip-side, Kingsbury can look at Humphries as a reliable part of the future and praised the tackle’s steady improvement at multiple points this season.

“I really think Coach Kugler and him are on the same page and have really worked hard at his technique to keep his fundamentals solid throughout the season,” Kingsbury said last week.

“He’s been healthy, which has been huge. That’s been something that kind of nagged him throughout his career so far. He’s had great energy, great preparation, and I’ve really been pleased with what I’ve seen so far.”


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