TEMPE, Ariz. — As the Arizona Cardinals begin their second week of offseason workouts, two questions loom large over the offense.
And they both deal with the offensive line.
“We got to figure out who the center is going to be, we got to figure out who the right tackle is going to be,” quarterback Carson Palmer said.
Let’s start with the latter.
D.J. Humphries, who spent his entire rookie season on the inactive list after the Cardinals selected him in the first round with the 24th overall pick, is expected to fill the right tackle spot. Last year’s starter Bobby Massie signed a free-agent contract with Chicago.
Humphries earned praise from both head coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin at season’s end for the progress he made. In addition, the coaches expressed confidence in the 22-year-old being ready to handle the job.
As far as who plays center, that’s more of an unknown.
Currently, the Cardinals list only two centers on the roster: veteran A.Q. Shipley and Valerian Ume-Ezeoke, a four-year starter at New Mexico State who was signed to a future contract after he was released by Atlanta as an undrafted rookie free agent.
The Cardinals will likely address the position at some point during this week’s three-day 2016 NFL Draft either with a player familiar snapping the football or one they believe may be able to transition to the middle of the line.
“There’s going to be some battles. There’s a lot of competition up front,” Palmer said.
The Cardinals are probably looking at three new starters along the offensive line this season.
“I’m excited. You very rarely keep five for year after year after year,” said Palmer, who called the free-agent acquisition of two-time Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis “huge; a guy that’s proven, a guy that’s played well.”
Mathis will play right guard and join returning starters Jared Veldheer and Mike Iupati, who anchored the left side of the line at tackle and guard, respectively.
Veldheer started every game last season, while Iupati started the final 13 following a knee injury and yet still was voted to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl, becoming the first Cardinals lineman to be so honored since Lomas Brown in 1996.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Palmer said, referring to all five linemen getting on the same page. “Those guys have a lot of continuity that they need to get caught up with each other and figure each other out and get used to the way each other calls protections and the different things that happen up front. But it’s a great group going into camp.”
The jelling of an offensive line takes time. It can’t be rushed, according to Mathis.
“There’s so many different factors that go into that: how much work you put in together off the field, how much experience you get together on the field in the different types of situations you end up in because you’re not always going to be in the same situations in practice and in games. There’s a lot that goes into that,” he said. “Some guys pick it up really fast and sometimes it takes guys to get thrown into more challenges than others before they jell, but I’m looking forward to this unit doing it pretty fast.”
Every moment together is important for the offensive line, even those here during the voluntary strength and conditioning program, where pads are missing as is a defense to line up against.
Palmer, though, is convinced the group will get on the same page sooner rather than later.
“You just work. There is no secret. It’s just work, and it’s repetitions. You can’t fake those repetitions. You have to get the reps in,” he said. “You can’t sit in the meeting room and watch film and do it. There’s things that have to happen on the field. When the guy that’s coming off the edge or a blitz is coming up the A-gap and you have to change a call or you have to pat your butt or whatever the signals are for the running backs, those things you just have to rep and we’ll get those.”
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