In their 24-17 win over the Chargers in pre-season game one, the Cardinals’ starting offensive line shined like the Arizona sun. This week at New Orleans they will play longer and try to strike more of a balance in the run and passing games.
However, as Cardinals’ fans witnessed, the performance of the second team offensive line versus the Chargers was mired by poor snaps, missed blitz pickups and out of sync pass protections. Credit the Chargers for creating the havoc up front—-and for having the benefit of keeping starting PED violator DT Corey Liuget in the game to lead the charge. Liuget is facing a 4 game suspension to start the season.
Is head coach Steve Wilks worried?
Wilks said this week, “I’m not really concerned about it. I think we have a good group. They made progress all the way back from OTAs and minicamp. It was an opportunity to be able to see where we are right now. We’re going to get better at that position. I think we have some guys in that second group who are going to step up and perform well.”
Notice how Wilks said, “we are going to get better at the position.” Wilks obviously has complete faith in Ray Brown, and with good reason. In recent years, Brown had made a Pro Bowler out of UDFA G Andrew Norwell and 2015 4th round pick T Daryl Williams. Brown’s line in Carolina also featured perennial Pro Bowl C Ryan Kalil.
Ray Brown knows talent when he sees it—-and better yet—-he knows how to develop it.
Before we take a closer look at the second string personnel, it would be wise to point out how critical it is for an offensive line to be in sync as a group. That coordination takes time and hundreds of practice reps versus all kinds of defensive formations, stunts and blitzes.
Often times, one missed assignment can make the whole line look bad. When one link in the chain breaks, the whole chain can fall apart.
Versus the Chargers the second team offensive line struggled up the middle, where 2nd year UDFA Daniel Munyer was stationed at center.
To be fair, Munyer, who last year received avid praise from Bruce Arians, had been playing RG for the first couple weeks of training camp. That was until starting center A.Q. Shipley was lost for season. Suddenly, Munyer, whom BA touted as “natural, athletic center,” was thrust in to the 2nd team center position with just a few days to prepare for the first game.
Had Munyer still been in BA’s offense, that transition would not have been as overwhelming. But, Munyer, like everyone else on the offense, has been learning a new system, with new terminology and new protection calls at the line of scrimmage.
Will Munyer be more settled and comfortable this week? Will his shotgun snaps be on target? Ray Brown has been hard at work this week in helping Daniel Munyer improve.
Should Munyer settle down and play well, he should be one of the 8 active linemen on game days as the swing C/G.
The other two players who figure to round out the 8 actives are John Wetzel and Will Holden. Wetzel is the team’s Swiss Army knife, as he has started 19 games the past two years, mostly at tackle (left and right) and a couple at guard. Will Holden started a game at guard last year and then four at left tackle, where he showed consistent progress.
Munyer, Wetzel and Holden will also be key players on special teams.
Against the Chargers, Wetzel was used as a blocking TE, a role that Holden is also suited for. Wetzel was at LTE on Chase Edmonds’ TD.
The Cardinals will likely keep nine offensive linemen on the 53 man roster. The big question is—-who will be the 9th?
The coaches love the upside of 7th round pick Korey Cunningham (who did not give up a single sack last year at Cincinnati in 469 passing snaps) and may not be willing to risk exposing him to waivers.
Ideally, the Cardinals would like to have another backup guard as the 9th player, but this is where missing out on 2015 5th round pick Cole Toner and 2017 4th round pick Dorian Johnson especially hurts.
2016 4th round pick, C/G Evan Boehm finds himself on the bubble. He’s strong at the point of attack and is made to order for blocking double teams, but struggles with the finesse techniques required at guard and center. Boehm needs to shine the next three weeks in order to stick.
The coaches like the athletic and aggressive play they are getting from 2nd year UDFA Josh Allen of Louisiana Tech. Allen took the place of Daniel Munyer at RG on the 2nd unit and can also play center. It appears likely that he will retain a practice squad spot, at the very least.
Vinston Painter is a solid backup with good size at tackle in what is now a very crowded position.
UDFAs Will House, Brant Weiss and Greg Pyke are vying for practice squad spots.
The key here is Ray Brown. He likes the young talent and wants time to develop it. His track record suggests, given ample time, he can mold young talents into good players—-which is great—-because the Cardinals can’t develop the players—-if they keep letting them go.