Year as backup prepped Mason Cole to again become Cardinals starting center
Mason Cole started every game for the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie, appearing immune to the injury bug that ravaged his position group two years ago.
When the presumed starter for that 3-13 season, A.Q. Shipley, returned last year recovered from a torn ACL, Cole lost the center job but got in more than 200 snaps as a backup along the interior of the line.
Sitting out did him some good, he said Monday on a Zoom call. And playing about a fifth of Arizona’s offensive snaps in 2019, the first under head coach Kliff Kingsbury and O-line coach Sean Kugler, was enough for the Cardinals’ decision-makers to promote Cole this offseason.
“Having that year as a backup, it was huge for me watching a guy like A.Q. and all the other vets in the room work and how they prepare,” Cole said. “It’s a year I didn’t really have (as a rookie third-round pick). I think in a weird way, having that year off really helped me, helped me learn from these other guys and see the room from a whole other perspective.”
Kugler received credit for working with Kingsbury to find the identity of the Cardinals offense last year. Arizona posted its first season as a franchise rushing for 5.0 or more yards per carry as it balanced the attack around rookie quarterback Kyler Murray.
The offensive line coach also gets credit for developing the team’s in-house talent, whether it be a franchise tackle in D.J. Humphries or young depth players like Cole or Lamont Gaillard.
“I credit Kugs to helping me a lot,” Cole said. “Even in this past year, I think I made the biggest jump technique-wise and performance-wise that I’ve probably made in my whole career.”
It’s that development across the line that will work in concert with Murray’s expected improvements in his second season.
As a unit, the Cardinals aimed for continuity along the offensive line by agreeing to offseason deals with Humphries, right tackles Marcus Gilbert and Justin Murray, plus backup guard Max Garcia.
“We as an offensive line have all the confidence in (Kyler Murray). We love the way he plays. He’s great to us,” Cole said. “Luckily for us, our room, we haven’t had a whole lot of turnover. I think it’ll be good, everyone being back together, same offense, same staff basically. It’s going to be huge.”
As Shipley entered free agency this offseason, Cole said Monday that Kugler gave him a call about his promotion. While general manager Steve Keim said in April that the Cardinals wouldn’t close the door on the 34-year-old Shipley returning, he gave a few reasons why it would be Cole becoming the starter.
“Mason Cole started every game at center two years ago. He played a lot this year at center and guard. He’s shown his positional flexibility,” Keim said.
“He’s extremely smart, he’s tough and he’s really, really athletic climbing and adjusting at the second level, so he’s a great fit for our offensive scheme.”
From then on, all signs pointed to Cole taking Shipley’s position as the starter.
“Free agent right now, probably won’t be back with the Cards,” Shipley said on The Wilderness Footprint podcast in May. “They want to go younger with the young talent. They got a young quarterback now.”
Cole feels confident that he’s a much better player than the one who in 2018 started his entire rookie season. Across the board, the important decision-makers on the Cardinals believe that is true as well.
“It’s good to hear that confidence, too, coming from your position coach,” Cole said.