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OG Justin Pugh pleased with Cardinals’ continuity on O-line

Offensive guard Justin Pugh #67 of the Arizona Cardinals in action during the NFL game against the Chicago Bears at State Farm Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Glendale, Arizona. The Chicago Bears won 16-14. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Social distancing practices to prevent the spread of coronavirus might cut into NFL teams’ organized team activities, but whenever football returns, Arizona Cardinals guard Justin Pugh sees reasons the offensive line room can keep the positive 2019 momentum going.

The Cardinals signed left tackle D.J. Humphries to a long-term deal before free agency began, and since they’ve brought back right tackles Justin Murray and Marcus Gilbert, plus reserve guard Max Garcia.

Center A.Q. Shipley’s future is up in the air as he remains a free agent, and his loss would certainly create a leadership void, regardless of third-year pro Mason Cole’s readiness to step in.

“I’m probably closest with A.Q. on the whole team,” Pugh said Thursday in a video call with reporters. “That’s above my pay grade, that whole thing. I know he’s ready to play and can play at a high level.”

Beyond Shipley’s pending free agency, it’s likely Arizona shakes up the room by drafting an offensive tackle in a few weeks. If that’s with the No. 8 overall pick, it could threaten Gilbert’s and Murray’s chance to start.

That, as Pugh likes to say, is the business of the league.

But continuity has been established. With uncertainty about what prep time will be available in the preseason, that’s even more essential heading into the second iteration of the K1 and K2 era.

“I think it’s definitely tough,” Pugh said. “We’re all going through this. A little bit of the unknown, ‘When are we able to get back?’ Knowing the guys in the room, that’s going to be a huge advantage for us. Trying to keep in contact with all those guys, working on the iPads, getting refreshed on the basic terminology so we can get back and hit the ground running.

“We have a lot of guys in that room that have a lot of NFL experience, and that should pay dividends, especially with shortened OTAs.”

Pugh has been running, cooking and keeping in touch with his family virtually while socially distancing this offseason.

His only pass-blocking reps of late have come against his girlfriend, he joked, but he’s also staying busy while serving as an ambassador for the Cardinals’ “Million Meal” initiative that is donating meals across five Valley food banks.

Looking toward 2020, Pugh believes Arizona is in position to improve on a 5-10-1 season on the offensive side of the ball. The return of Kenyan Drake at running back and addition of receiver DeAndre Hopkins looks good on paper.

“It’s going to be exciting for me because I’ll have to hold for probably for a tick less this year,” Pugh said.

But the team finding its offensive identity as 2019 aged built that potential. He doesn’t think the offense will change too drastically.

“When I was in New York (with the Giants), we had a receiver, Odell Beckham Jr., probably one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL,” Pugh said. “We were able to use him a lot, but you have to find out who you are as a team.

“Last year, throughout the season, we were able to find out who we are. We were able to run the ball effectively, which allowed us to use play-action pass, misdirection things and get the ball in our playmakers’ hands. This year is no different.”

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