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After Back Injury, It's Like D.J. Humphries Never Left

Tackle returns to field, personality intact, without surgery

Tackle D.J. Humphries (74) gives some advice to rookie tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (70) during Wednesday's OTA.
Tackle D.J. Humphries (74) gives some advice to rookie tackle Paris Johnson Jr. (70) during Wednesday's OTA.

D.J. Humphries finally returned to the field this week, an important step after months away due to a back injury.

The veteran left tackle certainly didn't have any rust behind the microphone when he met the media to talk about it.

"Have you ever been to ISS (in-school suspension)? Or silent lunch, or anything like that?" Humphries said. "That's what it felt like. I had to train in the weight room, watching all the guys run around (on the field) with the windows up. It was like, 'Is this about torturing me? Is this what we're trying to do?'

"To finally be out there with the guys, running around, talking a little junk, it was fun. It was fun."

Humphries has his fun. His career has shown that time and again. But a back injury isn't fun. After playing all but one game (because of COVID) over three seasons, Humphries played only eight last season. He insisted he was never scared of the back problem threatening his career, working hard to stay out of those "mental rabbit holes" of an injury.

But Humphries did acknowledge he came to a crossroads in early March, making the choice to stay with the rehab he had been doing and not have surgery. Had he waited and needed to go under the knife six weeks later, his season would have been impacted.

"I had to roll the dice a little bit," he said.

Even with the drafting of Paris Johnson Jr. in the first round and the presence of Josh Jones on the roster, Humphries figures to remain the team's starting left tackle as he goes into his ninth season.

"We're going to need good football from him," coach Jonathan Gannon said.

"He's one of the guys I lean on. That's what we want to build our team with."

Humphries' view of Johnson is a tangible representation of that. Johnson was a left tackle in college and, drafted sixth overall, figures to eventually supplant Humphries on that side. (For now, it seems that Johnson is getting work on the right side, and a Hump-Johnson bookend line makes sense in 2023.)

A smile comes over Humphries' face when asked if it bothered him that the Cardinals drafted Johnson.

"This is the NFL. You know what comes with this," Humphries said. "I'm not here to be worried about who they drafted. Instead of worrying about who they drafted you need to be thinking about what you need to be working on so you don't get put on the bench when they draft that guy.

"I know he's going to be good for our line."

Humphries doesn't see the point of being irritated with a teammate. "I ain't no hater," he said, and noted he wants to help any lineman get better. Johnson is no different.

"If I can help you do that, that's cool," Humphries said. "I'm going to be in some guy's Hall of Fame speech, 'He really helped me, man.'"

Playing football remains the top priority, however. He isn't at 100 percent quite yet but that is coming, and he made sure to thank Cardinals assistant training and physical therapist Dano Norceide for getting him to a non-surgical return.

"It's a love-hate relationship for sure," Humphries said. "Most days I hate the guy and then I see the doctor (who has good news) and I'm like, 'You're a really special guy, man.'"

Humphries is back up to 298 pounds, near his playing weight range of 305-310. Had it not been for the rehab, Humphries usually gets down to between 265 and 275 pounds just because he grows tired of eating as much as he needs to keep up his NFL weight.

Which, Humphries said, is something he's looking forward to when his career is over.

"I know I've been looking in the mirror and liking myself," Humphries said. "I know I gotta gain another 10 (right now), I don't know if it's gonna look like this with an extra 10."

When his playing days are over, "I'll be 250, six-pack, ripped, no shirt. … I'll be getting on a gladiator workout, maybe P90-X or something like that. I'll have a six-pack for sure."

Images of the Arizona Cardinals participating in Week 3 of voluntary OTA workouts at the Dignity Health Training Facility

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