Despite injuries, Cardinals GM Steve Keim remains optimistic about offensive line

Oct 10, 2016, 8:59 AM | Updated: 11:41 am
Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle John Wetzel (73) during an NFL football game against the Tampa B...
Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle John Wetzel (73) during an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
LISTEN: Steve Keim, Cardinals general manager

There was a collective sigh of relief around the Valley last Thursday night when the Arizona Cardinals were able to earn a 33-21 road win over the San Francisco 49ers.

The victory snapped a two-game losing skid and got the Cardinals pointed in the right direction heading into a Week 6 Monday night matchup against the reeling New York Jets.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a good amount of concern, especially when it comes to the offensive line.

Both starting guards — Evan Mathis and Mike Iupati — left the San Francisco game with injuries. Mathis exited with an ankle injury and was replaced by Earl Watford. Over the weekend, he was placed on injured reserve, which means he’s out for at least eight weeks.

General manager Steve Keim did say Monday that there’s a chance the two-time Pro Bowler could be back this season.

“Well, there’s always a chance,” Keim told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “That’s the great thing about the new rule is that you don’t have to designate that player and you can continually monitor whatever players you have on injured reserve and make a decision at the appropriate time.

“It’s a six-to-eight week deal where you can return to practice in six and play in eight weeks. We’ll continue to monitor all the guys we have on injured reserve and make a decision at the appropriate time.”

While Keim kept the door open for Mathis’ return, he acknowledged what a big loss that is in real time for the Cardinals.

“It’s a tough deal any time you lose a core player and a guy who is such a strong leader,” he said. “But the great thing about having quality depth and guys who can play in different spots with positional flexibility is really something that has helped us recently.”

Keim singled out the play of John Wetzel, who has toiled on several NFL practice squads since graduating from Boston College in 2012. Wetzel, who is listed as a tackle, filled in for Iupati at left guard against San Francisco and acquitted himself quite nicely in 29 snaps.

“Without any expectations, actually played a good game the other night,” Keim said. “Came off the ball and was physical, and he’s a guy, because of his mental aptitude and his ability to play a few different spots, did a nice job for us.”

Iupati also suffered an ankle injury last Thursday, but his timetable for return looks a lot better than Mathis’.

“We’ll find out a little more (Monday) and (Tuesday) if there’s going to be any type of time loss for Mike,” Keim said. “The next two games, when you look at those fronts, there’s no question they pose some problems for you, but there’s no doubt we have some guys, whether it’s going to be Earl Watford, or Wetzel or Cole Toner — guys like that who will step up and answer the challenge.”

Following the Monday night game against the Jets, who feature Pro Bowlers Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, along with Leonard Williams (five sacks) on their defensive line, the Cardinals will host the Seattle Seahawks in Week 7.

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