TEMPE, Ariz. — The nickname no longer fits, according to Arizona Cardinals right tackle D.J. Humphries.
Standing inside the locker room after the team’s first organized team activity of the offseason on Tuesday, Humphries wanted to make one thing clear: He is a different player than he was a year ago as a rookie, not only better but more mature.
Words though mean very little, and Humphries knows the only way to change people’s opinion of him — and shed that ‘knee-deep’ label — is through his actions on the field.
“I hate that. I get angry any time I hear it,” he said, referring to the unflattering nickname head coach Bruce Arians tagged him with in training camp because a foot up the backside didn’t provide enough motivation.
“Coach hasn’t called me that in a while,” Humphries continued, “but when I hear it, it gets under my skin. I use it as fuel, so I mean if I hear it, it’s kind of like, ‘OK, thank you. Thank you for racking my brain back in place again so I can come out here and mash out on somebody.’”
Humphries never saw the field in 2015.
Drafted with the 24th overall pick, Humphries spent his first NFL season on the sidelines. He was inactive for all 16 regular season games plus the playoffs.
Humphries didn’t like it, and for a time, he didn’t like the constant criticism he received from Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who works with the offensive line.
“Instead of me turning into a diva and making it negative and kind of pouting about it, I took it in as fuel,” said Humphries, who left Florida after his junior year. “I know I’m good enough to be on this field, but I just got to get out here and prove it every day that I can, so I appreciate what (the coaches) did to me and humbling me and putting me in that position. So, now I know. Now when I come back out on this field, I’m going to prove to you every time why you picked me in the first round and why I’m here.”
By all accounts, that’s exactly what Humphries, 22, has done.
At the end of last season, both Arians and Goodwin publicly expressed confidence in their young tackle. They were impressed by Humphries’ work and attitude, going as far as to say they would have given no hesitation to playing him if needed toward the end of the year.
Big things are expected out of Humphries this year.
Though he won’t just be handed the starting job, last year’s starter, Bobby Massie, signed a free-agent contract with Chicago, and the Cardinals did not address the position either in free agency or the draft.
“You’re going to have to pry my hands off (the right tackle spot). You’re going to have to kill me,” Humphries said, laughing. “You’re going to have to kill me for this one.”
Humphries should also benefit from the addition of veteran right guard Evan Mathis.
“It’ll be great for him,” Arians said. “Somebody that’s been through it and done it and is very bright, so if there is any question at the line. You know the communication is going to be good, and that’s the hardest thing, especially on the road (with) silent counts. When you have a good communicator next to you it’s easier to play.”
Added Mathis, “D.J. is a smart, young kid with a lot of talent. I think he has a bright career ahead of him. He comes ready to work. He comes motivated. I’m looking forward to working along beside him.
“I don’t know anything about his struggles. I don’t care about his struggles from last year.”
A lot of eyes are going to be on Humphries here at the start of OTAs and then mini-camp to eventually training camp and the preseason.
Humphries understands. He understands the skepticism.
Humphries also understands what it would mean should he once again not be on the field when the Cardinals open Week 1 against New England.
“It won’t happen. I haven’t even thought about it. It won’t happen. All I think about its getting better every day,” he said, before explaining his high confidence level. “Because that’s how you got to be. I second-guessed myself last year and I wound up on the bench. So I just got to get back the confident me and doing what I do well and just executing.”
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