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Iupati, Shipley Will Aid Cardinals' Run Game

Posted Mar 11, 2015

Free agent additions bulk up team's roster on interior of the offensive line

It’s easy to look at the numbers and conclude new Cardinals guard Mike Iupati is one of the best run-blockers in football, but think about what that means for a second.

The NFL is stocked with defensive linemen who are not only massive, but also amazingly nimble for their size. It takes a special type of player to meet opponents head on and consistently win that battle.

“It’s so hard to move somebody that’s also 300-something pounds,” Iupati said in his introductory news conference with the Arizona media. “It’s fun when you can dominate somebody.”

Iupati was a hot commodity on the open market this week because of his physicality, and officially inked his five-year deal with the Cardinals on Wednesday. He will reportedly get $22.5 million guaranteed, with the ability to earn more than $40 million if he plays out the entirety of his contract.

The Cardinals were willing to dole out so much dough because it should immediately upgrade their ground game. While Iupati has been mediocre in pass protection, he was rated the second-best run-blocker in the league last season by Pro Football Focus, and has consistently been one of the best since the 49ers drafted him in the first round of the 2010 draft.

The Cardinals averaged a meager 3.3 yards per carry in 2014 – last in the NFL -- and while injuries to starting running back Andre Ellington didn’t help, the offensive line didn’t create big enough holes, either. Iupati, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, should be an immediate upgrade.

“They want to run the ball,” Iupati said. “Of course we’ve got to pass the ball as well. Hopefully adding me will solidify the offensive line and I think I have a lot to bring to the table.”

Iupati said he played through a broken bone in his foot last season, which may have contributed to his uneven pass protection. He allowed seven sacks, per Pro Football Focus, which was the most among guards. His efficiency also dipped over the past few years when trying to protect for the mobile Colin Kaepernick, compared to pocket passer Alex Smith previously.

“I had fun blocking for Alex Smith,” Iupati said. “It’s different.”

The Cardinals have a pocket passer in Carson Palmer, and if Iupati can be serviceable in keeping him upright, his mauling ability in the run game should pay immediate dividends.

General Manager Steve Keim didn’t stop there with offensive line additions on Wednesday, as the Cards also announced a two-year deal with free agent center A.Q. Shipley. This is the third time Shipley has joined forces with coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin– he played for them with the Steelers and Colts – and he said that familiarity played a big factor in signing the contract.

Shipley was a backup for the Colts last season, but one who graded out well during his four starts at center. He will likely compete against Ted Larsen – and incumbent Lyle Sendlein if he’s not released – for the starting gig at the position.

“I’m here (to compete),” Shipley said. “My ultimate goal is to start, whether it’s at center or guard. Center’s my more natural and comfortable position and hopefully I get a crack at that.”

Center makes sense for Shipley, since Iupati and Jonathan Cooper figure to be the starting guards. Iupati has played his entire NFL career on the left side, but that’s also where Cooper – the team’s 2013 first-round pick – has lined up. While there’s been no official word, Iupati’s hope is to remain there, which would move Cooper over to the right side.

However it shakes out, the Cardinals boast two guards with impressive athleticism and first-round pedigrees. Iupati has proven himself, and the team hopes Cooper breaks out this year after two injury-marred campaigns to begin his professional career. The addition of Shipley should lead to a healthy competition at center, while Arians recently expressed his happiness with tackles Jared Veldheer and Bobby Massie.

The Cardinals ran the ball only 397 times a season ago compared to 568 pass attempts, and that was despite the absence of Palmer for 10 games. Arians is a gunslinger at heart but every coach strives to have enough balance to keep defenses guessing.

It remains to be seen which running back the Cardinals add this offseason, but that player, Ellington and the rest of the position group should find bigger running lanes in 2015 if everything goes to plan.

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