He was the only Cardinal offensive linemen to start all 16 games in 2018, yet he finds himself on the bench to begin 2019.
Mason Cole, the former third round pick out of Michigan, is entering year two of his young NFL career with his sights set on once again starting upfront for the Arizona Cardinals. The problem is, however, that Cole and his position flexibility was used “against him” once Justin Pugh missed time during training camp. A.Q. Shipley, coming off an ACL at 33 years old, was locked into a position battle with Cole that came to an abrupt end once the latters versatility was needed upfront.
Justin Pugh’s nagging shoulder gave Cole a chance to start at left guard alongside Shipley, however in doing so, all but took him out of the race to win the starting center job. Once Pugh returned to practice in late August, Cole found himself permanently saddled on the bench with the title of the team’s “sixth” offensive linemen.
Cole famously played all five positions along the offensive line during his time as a Wolverine, and that position flexibility is something the Cardinals desperately need beginning this Sunday.
On Friday, word came out of Cardinal practice that starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert was involved in a collision Thursday afternoon and the veteran will not play this coming Sunday against the Detroit Lions. He’s considered day-to-day with a knee injury.
That leaves the Cardinals in a vulnerable position, considering that rookie OT Joshua Miles has primarily worked at LT, while newly claimed OTs Justin Murray and Brent Toth have been with the team all but a week.
Enter Mason Cole.
“I can start at any of those three positions (inside)...I don’t think I can start at tackle, but if I had to, I would do it.”
That quote was taken from Cole following the conclusion of the center battle in late August. However it should be noted that Cole was receiving reps at both second team left and right tackle early in training camp.
The Cardinals starting five offensive linemen all come with their own set of concerns, but none more daunting than their injury history. Cole may not be the most talented of the group but he’s tough and durable. How many of the remaining linemen from a year ago can say that about their play? Lets start with zero and work our way down...
It may be a bit of a reach to say, but I’m more comfortable giving Cole the first shot at right tackle until Gilbert returns. Murray and Toth can enter the discussion after they’ve had more than two live practices with the team, but it should noted that neither have extensive NFL game experience (Murray was active for two games a season ago). Cole went toe to toe with the likes of Aaron Donald and DeForest Buckner as a rookie and was the team’s starting center during their shocking upset victory at Lambeau Field.
Oh, and did I mentioned he made 51 consecutive starts upfront for Michigan? That’s the kind of offensive line continuity that young Kyler Murray needs upfront to succeed. What they don’t need are constant headaches surrounding who “may or may not play” followed by abrupt inactive announcements 90 minutes before kickoff (cough cough D.J. Humphries cough cough).
For a position unit that spends more time on IR than on the game field, I’m ready to role the dice with a tough midwestern kid that has already proven his durability to the entire locker room.