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Cardinals’ 2019 OL Discussion

NFL: Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Right off the bat, Kliff Kingsbury hired a gem of an OL coach in Sean Kugler.

Here are some tidbits about Kugler you might want to know or be reminded of:

  • Andy Reid was his line coach at UTEP—-Reid later hired him as a coach—-he says Reid would have been the greatest OL coach of all time had he stayed an OL coach.
  • Was an assistant coach at Boise St. under Chris Peterson when Boise St. shocked Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl to finish the season undefeated—-remember the Statue of Liberty play?
  • His son played on the line with Mason Cole at Michigan.
  • Coached against Kliff Kingsbury twice, one a close loss, the other a Texas Tech blowout thanks to a QB named Patrick Mahomes.
  • In his 29 years of coaching he calls KK’s offense the most unique—-and the most refreshing.
  • Describes KK as “very humble, detailed, organized” and wants his coaches’ input.
  • Likes his OL to have fun in meetings, but when it comes time to work, work as a unit.
  • Looks first and foremost in evaluating players for “toughness, mental and physical.”
  • Takes silent walks each day around lunchtime and before games to “go through the calls in my head.”
  • He and his wife were the first family of the new staff to buy a house (in Chandler)—-he says that after 29 years “we have a routine down” and that “hopefully we can stay here in Arizona a long time.”

The discussion of the Cardinals’ 2019 OL has to begin with the status of LT D.J. Humphries. Steve Keim picked up his 5th year option at $9.6M, which Keim can rescind in March only if Humphries is 100% healthy—-if not, his $9.6M for 2019 is fully guaranteed.

As you might recall, I wrote and article in which I implored the Cardinals to move on from Humphries, seeing as he has only played in 27 of the Cardinals’ 66 games from 2015-2018.

Part of my reasoning was that this year’s draft is deep early on in tackles.

Gambo, when discussing the Humphries situation, believes that Keim is fully committed to Humphries is 2019, but beyond that, Gambo does not believe the Cardinals will sign him to a lucrative 2nd contract.

If Gambo is correct about the 2nd contract, to me that is all the more reason to move on now, if possible.

It would be like the classic Cardinals of old to draft one of the top tackles, move him to RT while Humphries is at LT and then move him back over to LT after Humphries leaves.

It would be even more classic Cardinals if the rookie doesn’t beat out RT Joe Barksdale, one of the Cardinals’ free agents whom Keim reportedly wants to re-sign.

Because then it could be deja vu all over again—-seeing as Humphries did not play one snap his rookie season as a 1st round draft pick. Ugh.

So here’s my point—-if Keim stays committed to Humphries, do so with the intention that if he finally stays healthy and plays well in Kingsbury’s offense that a 2nd contract (with playing time incentives) is the ultimate goal.

Humphries is a very likable young man who has been maturing nicely before our eyes—-and who is immensely talented. This is why decisions are so tough—-but sometimes GMs have to take the emotion out of the equation when players just can’t seem to stay on the field.

The Cardinals already have a promising young LT/RT in Korey Cunningham. I thought he played well enough there this past season that I would be fine starting him there this season—-so we can use the $9.6M to sign UFA LG Rodger Saffold. I didn’t see much of a drop-off from Humphries to Cunningham and the PFF grades reflect that as both players scored in the 60s (Humphries as 68.8 and Cunningham at 60.4).

RT Joe Barksdale (62.5 PFF) played fairly well and appears to be an athletic fit in an Air Raid offense.

And let’s not forget RFA John Wetzel, who is the best downfield blocking tackle the Cardinals have had in several years. Wetzel’s versatility is a real plus, as he can play either guard spot if need be.

Finally, Will Holden, has flashed some ability and he’s young and coachable.

At guard, Justin Pugh returns, following a disappointing, injury-marred first season in Arizona. This is just a hunch, but I think Pugh is going to thrive under Sean Kugler’s leadership, especially if Pugh comes to camp in tip-top shape.

Colby Gossett showed very good strength at the point of attack—-and is just learning the nuances of the more finesse aspects of guard play. I believe he has a good future in the league, especially if he takes well to Kugler’s coaching.

The left guard spot is the key opening—-where one might imagine Rodger Saffold to be the Cardinals’ top free agent target. If not Saffold, the Cardinals may want to keep addding to their run of signing former Falcons, by signing Andy Levitre or Ben Garland and then draft a guard like Chris Lindstrom (Boston College) in Round 2 or Dru Samia (Oklahoma) in round 3.

The sleeper UFA that I like is Eric Kush of the Bears. In 2017, Kush earned a PFF grade of 69.6. In 279 snaps. he did not give up one sack and only gave up QB hit. This past season he started the first 4 games with the Bears going 3-1, but the Bears were eager to play their 2nd round pick James Daniels of Iowa.

At center, Sean Kugler describes Mason Cole as a “very smart and talented player who should be the starter for 10-12 years.” In fact, Kugler revealed that the Broncos were going to take Cole on the 3rd round, but they were two picks behind the Cardinals and never got the chance.

The backups at center appear to be A.Q. Shipley and Daniel Munyer. Shipley is coming off an ACL injury and Munyer had some issues snapping the ball in shotgun, which he seemed to straighten out—-but in Kingsbury’s spread, the shotgun snaps have to be on the money.

But the free agent swing center/guard that I would love the Cardinals to sign is B.J. Finney of the Steelers via Kansas St. When called on last year, Finney played very well, earning an above average PFF grade of 71.5. He has started 9 games at center and guard over the past 3 years.

For the $9.6M the Cardinals could save if they move on from Humphries, they could sign T Joe Barksdale, G Eric Kush, G/C B.j. Finney and then find a way to draft T Andre Dillard (Washington St.) or Dalton Risner (Kansas St.) and G Chris Lindstrom (Boston College) or Dru Samia (Oklahoma). Of course, that is if they can’t win the Rodger Saffold sweepstake.