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Waiting On The Offensive Line

Posted Apr 18, 2010

Cards are always seeking pieces, but not necessarily high in the draft

Former seventh-round pick Brandon Keith has a chance to start at right tackle this season.
 
 
Levi Brown may have been the exception.

The Cardinals’ offensive tackle, who will be moved from the right to left side this offseason, was the fifth pick overall in 2007. But building an offensive line in Arizona has evolved into a concept of lesser marquee puzzle pieces – careful choices in free agency and potential-laden later draft picks – far from the first round.

The line will undoubtedly be addressed later this week in the 2010 draft. Just not right away.

“Personally, I’d rather stay away from drafting offensive linemen in the first round … (unless) you have an exceptional guy you do, like left tackles, who are rare,” general manager Rod Graves said. “Beyond that, you can look across the league and find starters who are middle- to-late round types.

“If you have an excellent offensive line coach, which we have, a good system, which we have, and if you’ve got kids who are tough and smart and decent athletic ability, you have a chance to mold those guys.”

Brown is the left tackle Graves speaks of, even though he spent the first three years of his career on the right side. The Cards have a one-time undrafted free agent at center – Lyle Sendlein – and guard Reggie Wells was a sixth-round pick back in 2003.

Fellow guard Deuce Lutui (a restricted free agent who has yet to sign his tender offer) was a second-round pick, but both he and Wells will be challenged by new free agent Rex Hadnot. And the right tackle spot could be manned by Jeremy Bridges, whom the Cards re-signed after picking him up as a free agent last year, or one of the young, late picks of the past two seasons: 2008 seventh-round pick Brandon Keith or 2009 fifth-round pick Herman Johnson.

If someone like Keith or Johnson emerges as starter, they’ll represent the perfect example of what the Cards have been trying to do.

“The biggest thing is there is no pressure,” Keith said. “Being a high pick, you are expected to do everything right away. There were good guys around me, I had a good coach, a Hall of Famer, in Russ Grimm, and with me sitting back, I got to see how the game was played.

“Now, I am somewhat of a mentor to Herman. I tell him he’s got to prepare, but at the same time take a lot of this stuff in because many guys don’t get that chance to soak stuff up and get a chance to get (mentally) into the game.”

Picking Keith two years ago was a look ahead to this offseason, when left tackle Mike Gandy’s contract expired. Gandy will not return. Creating a line of lesser-known names almost fits the position itself, which usually works without much fanfare.

Given the team’s needs in other areas – inside and outside linebacker, nose tackle, even a fourth wide receiver – the offensive line can wait.

The Cards will find someone somewhere.

“Sporadically a franchise is going to have to expend a high pick on those guys, but you can’t expend five first-round picks because you don’t have five first-round picks,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “You’ve got to find guys … that can fill out that group. There is chemistry with that group that makes them play better as a unit. You’ve got to have a good mix.”
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