Will Josh Jones have a shot to earn Cardinals’ starting RT role?
Re-signing Marcus Gilbert and Justin Murray this offseason ensured the Arizona Cardinals would have viable right tackle options for 2020.
But had Arizona selected an offensive tackle in the first round, it could have created a curious three-way competition for a starting role. Gilbert is coming off a serious knee injury, and Murray projects more as depth despite holding up in 12 starts a year ago.
So what happens now that the Cardinals drafted a supposed first-round talent in the third round?
Houston product Josh Jones fell to Arizona’s No. 72 pick, and while he seemed confident about fighting to earn a starting role, that could be more of an uphill battle than he thinks.
“I say (I can start) right away, man,” Jones said. “I feel like I’m ready to play at that level against a lot of great guys. I definitely feel like I’m … one of the play-ready tackles right now in this draft.”
Asked if Jones could realistically fight with Gilbert and Murray to earn a starting role, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury steered clear of setting the bar too high.
“First off, you want him to have confidence, obviously,” Kingsbury said. “It’ll be a jump. We know that.
“To not have to rush him into a spot is going to be helpful, I think, for Josh Jones long-term.”
Neither Murray nor Gilbert are under contract after the 2020 season. Josh Miles made strides after being a seventh-round pick out of Morgan State last season, Kingsbury noted.
Arizona drafted Jones with the idea he can play either tackle spot, though Jones played exclusively on the left side at Houston.
“Whether it’s right or left, he’s a player with enough athletic tools to play on the left side but has some of the traits you look for in a right tackle as well,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said. “To me, he’s got some versatility. He’ll be able to work early on in his career on both sides for us and see where he’s at.”
The man who will lead the developmental effort, Arizona offensive line coach Sean Kugler, clicked with Jones at a sit-down meeting at the Senior Bowl.
“I think we really kicked it off there, I think we really made a connection,” Jones said, adding that Kugler, a former UTEP head coach, did recruit him along with Kingsbury.
The 6-foot-5, 319-pound tackle said he spent the pre-draft process working on his right tackle technique. Jones thinks he’d be comfortable there.
And he should have a head start fitting into Kingsbury’s offense. Jones operated in a spread Air Raid-influenced system under the Mike Leach-groomed Dana Holgorsen at Houston. Before that, he played in a super-high-speed offense led by then-head coach Kendal Briles.
Jones also has experience protecting mobile quarterbacks, including a Kyler Murray-light type in shifty 5-foot-11 signal-caller D’Eriq King.
“I don’t think (the Cardinals’ offense is) too far from Dana’s offense, how he’s supposed to run it. I don’t think it’s too far off at all,” Jones said.
That sets him up to challenge for a future role opposite Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries. While scouting reports have concerns over his technique, the Cardinals saw Jones play with consistency this year.
As Kingsbury said, the team only tallied Jones allowing two pressures during the entire 2019 college season.