Once again, the Arizona Cardinals are forced to shuffle their offensive line
TEMPE, Ariz. – Like a blackjack dealer, or whatever your card game of choice may be, the Arizona Cardinals have shuffled their deck of offensive linemen a lot this season.
Too many times, to be honest.
“I tried to petition the league and see if I can get out there and they said no,” joked offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, who is also in charge of the offensive line.
Heading into this week’s home matchup against the New Orleans Saints, the Cardinals are looking at their third different five-man grouping in as many weeks and the seventh overall this season.
By comparison, the Cardinals used five different lineups in 2015, with three of those coming in the first four weeks of the season.
“It’s been interesting, there’s no question because the big thing they talk about on the offensive line is continuity,” center A.Q. Shipley said. “I thought we had a pretty solid group coming out of training camp, but then just different faces every week, mixing and matching, plugging in, plugging out. It’s been difficult for sure, but we’ve been making it work the best we can.”
As of now, the Cardinals are expected to start, from left to right, John Wetzel, Mike Iupati, Shipley, Taylor Boggs and Earl Watford.
Only Iupati and Shipley started Week 1.
“As long as we got five bodies, we’re going to play ball, so that’s where we’re at,” Goodwin said. “I’ll have five guys out there when the clock strikes the hour. We got to play and we’ll be ready to go. Those guys are professional. They get paid for a reason, so they got to play well.”
Gone are left tackle Jared Veldheer and right guard Evan Mathis, both lost due to season-ending injuries. Starting right tackle D.J. Humphries, who for the past three weeks has played left tackle, remains in the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Humphries did not practice for a second straight day on Thursday, and if he’s unable to play this week, then the Cardinals will turn to Wetzel, who started at left tackle against San Francisco and Minnesota in Weeks 10 and 11, respectively.
Manning right tackle would be Watford, who has started seven games at right guard this season. Tackle would not be a new position, however. He played there at the start of last season, when starter Bobby Massie was suspended for two games.
Watford becomes the Cardinals’ third different right tackle this season after Ulrick John was placed on injured reserve.
“It happens, it’s part of the game,” Watford said, referring to the number of injuries. “Next man up, that still applies. I just got to roll with the punches and just keep working.”
New to the mix is Boggs.
The Cardinals had Boggs in training camp, and he was in line to make the 53-man roster until an injury necessitated his release. Boggs, who has played in nine career games with four different teams over his five-year pro career, was re-signed Nov. 1.
“I’m frickin’ excited for it,” he said of the prospects of making his first NFL start this Sunday. “I’m just trying to stay in the moment, every day. I’m trying not to skip ahead because I want to really be in that moment of what is going to transfer over to the field on Sunday, but yeah, I’m thinking about it.”
For head coach Bruce Arians, the constant shuffling of the offensive line reminded him of his previous stops in Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.
“We went to the Super Bowl with six or seven (different tackles) in Pittsburgh one year,” he said. “In Indianapolis, during my interim coach year, I think we had 13 guys on IR…somehow they found a way to win.”
Shipley was with the Colts that 2012 season and made five starts at center, including the final three games.
“We had a ton of changes that year” but guys came back, which hasn’t happened this year, he said, referring to Veldheer and Mathis, “so some similarities but, I think, this has been a little more difficult this year just because we haven’t been able to get some guys back and continue to keep going down the list (of offensive linemen).”
And then after a brief pause, Shipley added, “We’ll be fine. They’ll coach ‘em up and get them ready for this week, and we’ll be ready.”
They need to be.
Though the Saints don’t have a prolific pass rush, they have gotten after opposing quarterbacks in recent weeks. Fifteen of their 26 sacks have come in the past five games, including six against Trevor Siemian and the Denver Broncos.
To his credit, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, who has been sacked 37 times this season, had no concerns with having to play behind a shuffled offensive line.
“I’m not dreading it as much as it sounds like you guys are dreading it. Whoever is there is in there. That’s not something that I dwell on or think about or worry about,” he said.
“To be honest, I didn’t know who is starting on Sunday today because I’m not focused on or concerned with it. It’s irrelevant, but what is relevant is me understanding my reads and my checks. Getting us in the right direction, getting us out of the wrong plays, and everything else that goes on around you, you just can’t focus on. Maybe that’s what I have with experience. Maybe a young guy might look at it different, but I’ve been here before and you just have to go through your game plan and be ready to play.”