Cardinals’ Paris Johnson Jr. ready to fill void left behind by D.J. Humphries

Mar 14, 2024, 8:12 PM | Updated: Mar 15, 2024, 8:24 am

PHOENIX — Offensive linemen Paris Johnson Jr. and D.J. Humphries didn’t know one another until the former made his way to the Arizona Cardinals as a first-round pick this past April.

But once they stepped on the field together, you would have thought they had been teammates for years.

Whether it was veteran starting left tackle teaching the little things about the NFL life on and off the field or the rookie perfecting their pregame “mask on” routine, the two were quick to form a bond bookending the Arizona’s offensive line.

So, when the news came down that the Cardinals had released Humphries amid a flurry of free agency moves this week, the cut stung more than most for the second-year pro.

“I feel like I’ve known him for the nine years he’s been here,” Johnson told Cardinals Corner, an Arizona Sports podcast. “It’s crazy. I feel like you can’t really say that about a lot of people. … But I understand it’s $1 billion business. That’s the industry we’re in. But at the same time on a personal level, it just hurts.

“I thought me and Hump were going to rock out until Hump said he wanted to hang it up. Not the case. I’m seeing things switch but I think the front office that we have, I feel like they know what they’re doing.”

The changing of the guard (at tackle)

Now, it’s on Johnson to take what he’s learned from Humphries as the second-year pro takes that next step both on the field and in the locker room.

In addition to his duties as a starting left tackle over 98 games played in the desert, Humphries has always been known as the guy that can lighten the mood in any room he walks into, from team meeting rooms to press conferences and everywhere else in between.

The jury’s still out as to whether or not Johnson is officially making the switch to the left side — though you can make a strong argument that’s the natural next step.

But there’s plenty Johnson can and is ready to do behind closed doors.

“Without him in the room, it’s definitely going to be time for me to be that guy in the room,” Johnson said. “Not just on the field, but honestly the energy in the meeting room. Hump made my rookie year go by so fast. I want to be able to do that for the next person. Being able to be the Hump to somebody else is passing the game along.

“I know this is why I was brought here. I was brought here to take over a leadership role. I want to continue to earn the respect of my teammates. … I kind of pulled off (as a rookie). Now, I have to kind of accelerate to that officially capacity of a leader. That’s my goal of how I’m trying to work this offseason.”

A new pregame routine in the works?

On top of the glaring question about where Johnson is going to line up this season without Humphries on the roster, there’s an equally important one that needs addressing:

Is the pregame “mask on” routine heading for retirement?

“I may have to retire it. That was part of my routine before I took the field. It’s kind of a mental thing for me. Even that last game (with Humphries out), I kind of just ran out there. It felt weird just to run out there.

“I’ll have to figure something out, but I may have to retire that and create something new.”

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