For Arizona Cardinals OT D.J. Humphries, what a difference a year makes

Nov 30, 2016, 5:19 PM | Updated: Dec 1, 2016, 6:54 pm

Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries (74) waits to take the field with teammates duri...

Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries (74) waits to take the field with teammates during the start of an NFL preseason football game against the Oakland Raiders, Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

(AP Photo/Ralph Freso)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Called a bust by fans and nicknamed “Knee-Deep” by the head coach, Arizona Cardinals offensive tackle D.J. Humphries heard it all in his first NFL season. Now, a year later, he’s hearing something quite different: praise.

“I couldn’t ask for anymore out of him,” Bruce Arians said Wednesday. “He’s run blocking extremely well, at a very high level. He’s had some up-and-downs in pass protection, but overall very few mental errors and he always gives a ton of effort.”

In a season that hasn’t lived up to the expectations placed on the team, Humphries is most certainly meeting those placed on him as a former first-round draft pick.

It just took a year to reach them.

Of the five tackles selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Humphries was the only one who did not play as a rookie. He was inactive for all 16 regular season games and both playoff games, which was certainly not what anyone expected as the 24th overall pick.

The year, though, was “very good for him,” according to Arians.

And the proof is how Humphries has performed this season, whether at right tackle or, as is the situation now, at left tackle.

Looking to shore up its offensive line, a unit that’s down two starters, the Cardinals moved Humphries to left tackle last week at Atlanta, a move that appeared seamless to many.

“Like it was nothing,” Arians said.

“I thought he did really good,” quarterback Carson Palmer said.

Of course left tackle is Humphries’ natural position. It’s the spot he played in college.

Still, moving from one side of the offensive line to the other is easier said than done.

“I’m glad it looked seamless because there was definitely some work (put in) throughout the week,” said Humphries, who started the first 10 games of the season at right tackle. “A lot of stuff came more natural to me than I thought it would because I had been working so hard on the right side. So a lot of stuff kind of fell back into place a lot quicker than I thought it would, so now it’s more fine-tuning that stuff that I had fine-tuned on the right side because I knew it wasn’t natural and I was going to have to force it.

“Bringing that (mentality and work ethic) to the left side and I think that will make me ten times better (at) left tackle.”

According to Pro Football Focus, Humphries played one of his better games of the season against the Falcons. He didn’t allow any sacks or hits on the quarterback, but he did give up three pressures on 51 pass blocking snaps.

Humphries played 66 snaps in all.

“It seems impossible if you say somebody is going to go from right tackle to left tackle after one week, but he did it about as fluidly as you could expect,” Palmer said. “And I think it’s just going to get better and better each week.”

Humphries’ versatility is a good thing, but it does present the Cardinals with an interesting decision next season: Who plays left tackle? Humphries or Jared Veldheer, who is expected to make a full recovery from a torn triceps?

“That’s one of them decisions that’s above my pay grade,” Humphries said.

And a decision that doesn’t have to be made for quite some time.

So until then, Humphries will continue to anchor the left side of the offensive line. That means putting in the extra work, both on and off the field, to make sure, in his words, he’s playing “at a higher level” than he did in Atlanta. Because while the praise is nice, “I know from what I expect from myself that that’s not good enough. It’s got to be better,” he said.

Humphries understands he’s not that far removed from the rookie name-calling.

“Outside opinions don’t matter. What’s going on in this building and what’s thought of me in this building is the only thing really that matters. People are so emotional in how they feel. Right now, they think I’m doing good. (If) I have a bad game, I’m a bust again,” he said. “It’s about keeping it in perspective…not getting too high and not getting too low. Knowing how to ride that road in the middle and not get too high on myself and get too low on myself because it can be right back to that just like that (snaps his fingers).”

He has not arrived just yet.

“I will have arrived when I’m an all-pro, that’s arriving, that’s arriving.”

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For Arizona Cardinals OT D.J. Humphries, what a difference a year makes