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An O-Line Built To Last

Cardinals still seeking stability and security up front with their five blockers


Offensive line starters Bradley Sowell, Daryn Colledge and Lyle Sendlein wait during a break before last week's Seattle game.

It was mid-June, and Daryn Colledge was talking about the hopes and dreams of the Cardinals' offensive line this season.

"I think the first and foremost goal is to become a solidified unit," Colledge said. "We lost a lot of guys last year, dealt with a lot of injuries. We'd like to be an offensive that line that can have all five guys stay on the field for the whole year. You look at the great offensive lines, you look at the championship teams that play year in and year out. They're teams that have offensive lines stay healthy, that stay together for more than a year.

"Our unit has to be cohesive it has to work so much together that it's one of those things that you drop a piece, ahhh, you might be OK, you drop two pieces and you're starting to flounder. You drop three pieces like we did last year and then guys have to start scrambling."

Flash forward to mid-October. The Cardinals aren't scrambling on the offensive line. They lost No. 1 pick Jonathan Cooper in preseason for the year with a broken leg, a painful blow. But the only in-season move was one of the team's own doing, trading away struggling left tackle Levi Brown and installing the inexperienced Bradley Sowell – who has struggled as much if not more.

Yet Colledge's "foremost goal" hasn't been reached. And the Cards are still trying to figure out a unit that has vexed them for a while.

"Every coach has a vision and hopefully one day we get that vision," offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Harold Goodwin said. "But right now we're just trying to take what we have and get better. I think we are capable. We just have to get better."

This wasn't always the way. The Cardinals didn't boast any Pro Bowl offensive linemen during their division-winning years of 2008 and 2009. But, with Kurt Warner at quarterback, the Cardinals were able to manage and even thrive offensively.

It didn't hurt that, in 2008, the same five linemen – from left tackle to right tackle, Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Lyle Sendlein, Deuce Lutui and Brown – played together all season.

The first step in rehabbing the current line was the selection of Cooper, but that plan was put on hold when Cooper got hurt. Adding veteran Eric Winston at right tackle was considered a coup as training camp got underway, although the Cardinals are still talking about working in second-year right tackle Bobby Massie for some playing time.

(Goodwin said Thursday the Cardinals have not yet talked about it in detail but "there is a shot" at Massie playing some snaps Sunday against Atlanta.)

Sendlein remains at center. Right guard Paul Fanaika has filled in the spot created when Colledge moved to left guard to replace Cooper, but Fanaika is not Cooper. Colledge likely will have to rework his contract after the season, but he's played solid this season. Sowell is the left tackle for now. Nate Potter, who has struggled when he has played guard, is Sowell's backup, but the Cardinals will be in the market for a left tackle after the season. How General Manager Steve Keim shapes the line going into 2014 will be, again, one of the main offseason storylines.

In the meantime, "you go and do your job," Sendlein said. "You can't let people outside of the locker room affect your preparation. You can't let it affect you on a daily basis."

Sendlein, not only the lone Super Bowl holdover but also a one-time offensive captain, measures his words. The questions about the line are all ones he has fielded before, multiple times.

"The way (the game) is now and the way teams are getting with pass rushing, it's made it more difficult, but there are no excuses," Sendlein said. "You obviously want to play next to the same guy all year. But that's one of the reasons we rotate in practice. You get used to playing with all nine guys we have on the team. You get used to them. It's rare to go through a whole season and not have them get dinged up. You prepare for it."

Goodwin has gamely answered offensive line questions every week, but there aren't many answers he can provide.

"You always have to set your expectations high and try to achieve them," Goodwin said. "Obviously there has been some change. To me, whoever is in there has to play to the standard. Those guys and myself accept that responsibility."

Reaching Goodwin's "vision" – he was not specific what it was – may not be possible this season. He hasn't lost his sense of humor though, when asked what further changes could be made.

"I thought about coming out and dressing, being the first player-coach in a long time, but it's not going to happen," said Goodwin, the one-time lineman."

"Bradley has to do a better job. We have to do a better job across the board," Goodwin added. "If things don't get better then maybe we do have to make a change."

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