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Offensive Line Has Steve Wilks' Attention

Posted Mar 30, 2018

Coach oversees needed revamping of the unit up front

The Cardinals' offensive line will have new pieces, but holdovers A.Q. Shipley (53), Mike Iupati (76) and D.J. Humphries (74) will have a chance to remain.

The quarterback is settled (for now), but when the offseason started the Cardinals – and new coach Steve Wilks – thought about the offensive line just as much.

“I always try to see the big picture, and the big picture to me is up front on both sides of the ball,” Wilks said. “That’s one thing I want to do coming in and really try to improve the offensive line.”

So the Cardinals signed Justin Pugh to play right guard. They signed Andre Smith to play right tackle, trading away Jared Veldheer to the Broncos for a sixth-round pick. They reworked Mike Iupati’s contract so he would remain as left guard.

D.J. Humphries is set to return from a knee injury to play left tackle, and A.Q. Shipley is the returning starter at center.

The line isn’t the only spot the Cardinals needed to look at, and there is still another spot that has an obvious hole. The receiving corps after Larry Fitzgerald is thin, with only J.J. Nelson as significant experience and an unknown future from 2017 third-round draft pick Chad Williams.

Wilks acknowledged the Cardinals need to find receivers either in free agency or the draft (or both.) But he believes a rookie can contribute at receiver depending on how much is put on them, pointing to a pair of Panthers at his previous team -- Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess.

Then again, Wilks said, the Cards are still looking to add players “across the board.”

That could also mean more depth on the offensive line, where the most experienced players on the roster are swing tackle John Wetzel, who has also played some guard, former starting guard Evan Boehm, who lost that position last season and who is a natural center, and 2017 draft pick Will Holden, a tackle.

“You have to have some men in front of that guy who is pulling the trigger,” offensive line coach Ray Brown said. “Sometimes the solutions can be in your locker room. We have to do everything we can to get everything we can out of all the players we have.”

Injuries ruined the 2017 version of the offensive line. This year’s version must prove it can stay healthy – Humphries and Iupati were among the injured last season, while Pugh also dealt with a bad back last season.

Wilks is bullish on the coaching of Brown, who already connected with Humphries when Brown was coaching with the Panthers and Humphries was Carolina’s potential first-round pick. He thinks the additions of Pugh and Smith will help, but he isn’t guaranteeing any starting jobs yet.

Wilks said there will be open competition, particularly when the question of center and Shipley versus Boehm comes up. But he also emphasized Shipley’s strengths.

“A.Q. has done a tremendous job up front,” Wilks said. “He’s gritty and tough. He has the DNA I am looking for. I like how he takes control of the offensive line. But those guys are going to all compete and Ray Brown is going to get them better this year.”

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