The Cardinals' most high-profile starting position battle has been decided.
Veteran A.Q. Shipley has won the job as the starting center, beating out Mason Cole. Shipley, 33, tore his ACL last preseason and missed the entire year, paving the way for Cole to start every game at center as a rookie.
Shipley seemed like the favorite once Cole was moved to first-team left guard to fill in for an injured Justin Pugh in training camp. Pugh has since returned, making Cole a Swiss Army knife backup beginning in Week 1.
"We feel like Mason is very valuable at a number of positions, whether it's center or guard," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He can get us through a game at tackle, even. He's maybe the most valuable O-lineman we have."
Cole has played in every game of his career dating all the way back to his freshman season of high school, and earlier this week said it would be weird not to play. However, he understood the situation and was prepared to be a reserve if needed.
"My whole process in football has been, 'What can I do to help the team?'" Cole said Tuesday. "If that's being the sixth man this year, filling in when guys go down, then I'm ready for it."
CRABTREE'S STATUS FOR SEASON OPENER UP IN THE AIR
Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree warmed up with the Cardinals before Thursday's game in Denver but did not play.
Kingsbury is unsure if he will be up to speed enough to play in the opener next Sunday against the Lions.
"We like what we're seeing so far, but that's a lot of install and a lot of information to cram into a couple weeks – and condition and all those things," Kingsbury said. "But he's a pro's pro. He's very anxious. I don't have an answer for you yet. We'll have to get into the week and see where he's at."
The Cardinals' other outside receiver options could be KeeSean Johnson, Damiere Byrd and Trent Sherfield, depending on how the roster shakes out after cuts this weekend.
Johnson was a sixth-round pick in April's draft but turned heads quickly, and Kingsbury envisions a role for him immediately.
"Every time the ball comes his way, he seems to catch it," Kingsbury said. "He's a guy we talked about through camp, just his route-running ability, and how natural he is at snatching the ball and separating. It's been impressive, and I think he's just going to get better and better."
REDDICK 'HAS A CHANCE' TO PLAY IN OPENER
Inside linebacker Haason Reddick (knee) returned to practice this week as he attempts to be ready for the opener.
"I think he has a chance," Kingsbury said. "I don't know to what extent playing-time wise, but I feel like he has moved around better and better. If that continues and we don't have setbacks, I could see there being a role. There may not be, but I think with the development I've seen with the rehab process, that he has a chance to play some."
Joe Walker is expected to start at inside linebacker next to Jordan Hicks if Reddick is unavailable.
KINGSBURY WANTS QUARTERBACK ON PRACTICE SQUAD
Kyler Murray and Brett Hundley seem locks for the active roster, and Kingsbury said he would like to have a third quarterback on the practice squad.
The Cardinals figure to scan the waiver wire for options. Drew Anderson and Charles Kanoff, the backup quarterbacks this preseason, could also be in the discussion.
"In my head, and talking to Steve (Keim), we'd like to have a young guy we feel like we can develop to have a role moving forward," Kingsbury said. "If something were to happen (to Murray or Hundley), we could activate him and feel confident that we could execute some plays. We'll have to see who is out there and how we feel about our guys here as well."
Images from the fourth preseason game on Thursday night in Denver