Just the day before he took the field for the Cardinals’ Red and White practice, veteran A.Q. Shipley was good-naturedly making the point that he planned on hanging on to his starting center spot even after the team drafted potential replacement Mason Cole.
Now, Shipley, the Cardinals and Cole have to see just how ready the rookie will be to do just that.
Monday, coach Steve Wilks confirmed the worst-case scenario for Shipley’s in-practice knee injury from Saturday, with Shipley out for the season with a torn right anterior cruciate ligament. Cole, the third-round pick out of the University of Michigan, will step into the starting lineup.
“It’s incredibly hard to see a guy like that go down,” Cole said. “I’ve learned a lot from him in my first few months being here and will learn a lot from him, but I am confident I can fill in and hopefully play as good as he has.”
Shipley tweeted that the diagnosis was the “hardest news of my life” but that he’d come back stronger next year.
“You have to quickly hit the reset button,” Wilks said. “You could tell on Saturday it took the (wind out of the) sail of the offense and the team as a whole. Not really knowing what happened but understanding he went off and it wasn’t good.
“We have to bounce back. It’s part of the season, it’s part of how things go throughout the year, and we just have to keep pressing.”
Wilks noted again Cole’s resumé, which included the fact he started all four years in a pro-style offense at Michigan at various spots, including center. The coach pointed out Cole’s high intelligence, which will be crucial at a position that must make the offensive line calls before every snap.
“All the reasons we drafted him are the reasons he is here and he’s ready to step in and show he can play at this level,” Wilks said.
Up until this point, Daniel Munyer has been the third-team center, with Evan Boehm – originally drafted to be a center – playing second-team guard. Wilks said both Boehm and Munyer will be candidates to be Cole’s backup, and the Cardinals will also explore depth options in free agency.
Cole echoed Wilks’ belief that Michigan’s style of offense and his vast college experience will give him an “upper hand” compared to most rookies put in this position. He acknowledged it will be the mental part of the game that will be the hurdle which he must clear.
“The biggest thing for me is to just go out and play football,” Cole said. “That’s why they drafted me here, in case anything like this ever happened.”
Cole will be aided with veteran quarterback Sam Bradford as well.
Shipley talked to the offensive line Monday morning, simply expressing confidence in the new-look line.
“Coach (Mike) McCoy said it best today: A.Q. is the heartbeat of the offensive line,” guard Justin Pugh said. “It was definitely tough news to hear.”
Pugh said he can help Cole as a player who also started as a rookie, – “There’s a different kind of pressure playing in the NFL than playing in college,” Pugh said – adding that the team as a whole needed to learn from the situation.
“We were deflated after it happened in practice,” Pugh said. “We knew it didn’t look good. Coach McCoy harped on it in meetings today – things like this are going to happen. It’s an evil of this game you don’t want to see happen, and when it happens to one of your leaders, it definitely hurts.
“But we have to rally behind the guys that are out there, and the next guy has to step up.”
Images from the eighth practice of training camp.