Arizona Cardinals’ continuity at OL strained by injuries along the interior

Nov 7, 2022, 6:25 PM

TEMPE — The start to Arizona Cardinals rookie offensive lineman Lecitus Smith’s NFL career has been slower than most.

Having seen just eight offensive snaps and some special teams work over two games played ahead of Week 9, the chances of seeing the field in an expanded role against the Seattle Seahawks were slim.

That was until starting guard Will Hernandez went down with a pectoral injury in the first quarter of Arizona’s 31-21 loss.

Dubbed as questionable to return, Hernandez failed to make it back onto the field, leaving Smith to combat a tough Seattle Seahawks front on the fly alongside an already depleted Cardinals O-line.

“I thought he held his own for his first time ever,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Monday. “That’s a tough unit he was going against. They’ve played really well up front, have some big run stoppers and guys that can really rush the passer and are playing at a really high level defensively. I thought he held his own and he’ll get better with the more reps he gets. We’ll try to get him more this week.”

Obviously, not all of it is going to be pretty, with Smith getting hit with a false start penalty and allowing a sack. But on short notice and in his first legit shot in the NFL, the rookie gained some confidence that he can hang at the highest level of competition. At the same time, he knows there’s a lot to improve on.

The more time he can get on task and watch his own film, the better, especially with the number of injuries impacting the line on a weekly basis.

With Kingsbury already ruling out Hernandez and starting center Rodney Hudson not expected to play in the team’s Week 10 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, in addition to Justin Pugh being lost for the season, Smith has a good chance at seeing a good chunk of snaps in Week 10.

Max Garcia and Sean Harlow, who is the team’s backup center behind Billy Price, are two other candidates that could step in if needed, Kingsbury said Monday.

“You never know when your number is going to be called,” Smith said after the game on Sunday. “You never know when you are going to be up. If I’m being completely honest, I did not expect to play this week.

“But at the same time, I prepared like I was going to because (the veterans are) leading me and showing me right from wrong, especially (OL coach Sean Kugler), he does a great job as well getting us guys ready for the game. I didn’t think I was going to play but I prepared throughout the week like I was going to.”

So far this season, the Cardinals have rolled out six different iterations of the starting offensive line, four of which have come over the past five games.

And for all the injuries plaguing Arizona’s bodyguards, their Week 10 opponent has it worse. Given Rams head coach Sean McVay’s comments to reporters on his offensive line, there’s potential Los Angeles could roll out its ninth starting alignment in as many games.

“I just think you understand that sometimes it is a battle attrition and you’ve got to find ways to win games no matter what,” Kingsbury said when asked about teams going through similar injury issues. “It’s a tough league and it’s part of our job to figure out how to maximize the guys we’ve got out there.”

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