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Cardinals OL coach Sean Kugler saw D.J. Humphries blossom in 2019

Offensive tackle D.J. Humphries #74 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates a touchdown scored in the first half of the NFL game against the Atlanta Falcons at State Farm Stadium on October 13, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Would the Arizona Cardinals, with the NFL’s second-best rushing attack by yards-per-carry, have built the optimism they did in 2019 without offensive line coach Sean Kugler?

Would left tackle D.J. Humphries have earned himself a lucrative new contract with someone other than Kugler taking the assistant role under head coach Kliff Kingsbury?

Without dissecting hypothetical questions, here’s what we do know: Kingsbury and the offensive linemen regularly credited Kugler for Arizona’s offense successfully building an identity in 2019.

But when it comes to Humphries specifically, Kugler will give credit to the player.

“Really early in the year I had a lot of heart-to-heart talks with D.J.,” Kugler said when he joined the Big Red Rage with Paul Calvisi and Ron Wolfley on Thursday. “I really think probably a quarter of the way through the season, it really clicked. Then you saw confidence building with him. He’s kind of changed his lifestyle. He’s lean, he’s in-shape, he’s doing the right things with his body.”

Kugler also saw Humphries develop as a leader. The team had enough confidence in Humphries’ maturation that Kugler awarded the 26-year-old “D.J. Focus Fridays,” where the left tackle assumed the O-line room’s leadership role for a day, Kugler said.

Humphries signed a three-year deal worth up to $45 million on Tuesday and said that the 2019 season felt like the first time he could step into such a role.

“You can’t lead someone without following first,” Humphries said. “I always felt like I needed to stick to the older guys when I was young just to soak up as much as I could before I felt comfortable even pushing myself to the group … I felt like it just all fell together for me this year.”

Injury setbacks and maturity issues led the storylines for the majority of his four-year rookie contract, but Humphries said Tuesday that he felt this season that his career was just starting.

As in, he’s finally locked into the habits of being a professional, and now there’s more room for growth.

To Kugler, Humphries’ work ethic and joy for not only the game but the process will make for a successful narrative during his new contract.

“I think it was a wise decision by our organization to re-sign him and I think, again, he’s going to take off,” Kugler said while visiting with the Big Red Rage on ESPN 620 AM. “He’s a loyal cat … I don’t think it’s going to be ‘I got money in my pocket, I’m going to be a fat cat.’ I think he’s going to be a guy that (says), ‘I finally got people believe in me and trust me, and now I’m going to go prove to these guys they made the right decision.’

“You look in between series, he’s out there dancing in the huddle. He truly enjoys himself all day long. He enjoys himself in the meetings, he enjoys himself on the field. Where initially there had to be kind of a foot up his (expletive), you don’t have to do that. He motivates himself. That’s fun. That’s just as fun as seeing a guy get a contract, seeing a guy develop like that.”

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