Cardinals center A.Q. Shipley (53) works with the first team during the offseason.
A. Q. Shipley has always been the other guy.
He wasn't Lyle Sendlein last year, the Cardinals' longtime center who re-signed in training camp and beat out Shipley for the starting job. He's not Evan Boehm this year, the rookie fourth-rounder who many believe will take over and solidify the center position for seasons to come.
Shipley played a valuable jack-of-all-trades role for the Cardinals in 2015. He filled in at center when Sendlein missed a game and played tight end and fullback in run-heavy packages. But at age 30, the NFL journeyman would love to nail down a starting role for the first time in his eight-year career.
"I've started a bunch of games in this league but I've never been a full-time starter," Shipley said. "That's obviously been my goal all along, and that's where I want to get to."
"I know I can do it," Shipley added. "It's just, I battle the perception of my height. I battle the perception of my arms. I've always said it doesn't affect me by any means because I've done it for so long and it's never bothered me, but it's a perception that I'll always battle."
At 6-foot-1, Shipley is two inches shorter than Boehm, and the inability to lock up against interior defensive linemen is the concern. But Shipley points to his one start last season when Sendlein was hurt. The Cardinals rushed for 230 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles in Week 15, and while David Johnson's greatness that day can't be diminished, Shipley felt he acquitted himself nicely.
In the blowout win, he sometimes matched up against Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, who recently signed a six-year, $103 million extension with $63.4 million guaranteed.
"I played pretty well against him last year, so I think they know what I can do," Shipley said. "It's just about giving me the opportunity and letting me go out and prove it."
Shipley has taken snaps with the first team throughout the offseason, and said his rapport with quarterback Carson Palmer has grown. Coach Bruce Arians said Shipley just needs to remain steady to earn the starting center job, since he started at such an advantage on Boehm.
"Right now, just stay on the field," Arians said. "Evan's overloaded like most rookies that come out of that (college) system. They just don't have that volume to do. Right now, I would say it would be A.Q., then Earl (Watford), then Evan. But Evan's going to have a hell of a future."
While Shipley currently has the inside track over Boehm for the job, there hasn't been any subterfuge this offseason to keep it that way. When Shipley was drafted by the Steelers in 2009, veteran center Justin Hartwig taught him the ropes. Later in Indianapolis, Samson Satele played a vital role in furthering Shipley's career. Even last year, Shipley and Sendlein developed a mutually beneficial relationship.
Each day during offseason practices, Shipley has done his best to get Boehm up to speed.
"You can ask him," Shipley said. "From Day One I've been trying to help him. Nobody's ever shunned me away from teaching, so why wouldn't I do the same? We're all on the same team. We're all trying to get better, and we're all accountable to each other. If he does things right, he makes me look good, and if I do things right, I make him look good. That's always the way I've approached it."
Boehm calls Shipley "a great mentor," although he treaded carefully when he first arrived in Arizona, not knowing if Shipley would welcome him warmly.
"You have to worry about that a little bit because you're a new guy coming in," Boehm said. "But A.Q. was in this position. Every one of these guys was in the same position I was at one point. They understand and they get what's going on. Especially A.Q. at that center spot, how much we have to know and how much we have to learn right off the bat. He's definitely been there to help me out."
If Shipley is beaten out by Boehm, he is still expected to make the roster as the backup center. While he could return to the role of Swiss Army Knife in the offense, playing wherever he's needed, Shipley would rather that role go to someone else. This season, he wants to be the starter.
"I've worked hard," Shipley said. "I know the system like the back of my hand. I'm going in from a mental capacity as good as I can go. I've just got to carry it over to the field."
Images of the 45 offensive players on the Cardinals' 90-man roster