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Cardinals Believe In Benefits Of Offensive Line Rotation

Backups Justin Murray, Lamont Gaillard being used to keep starters fresher

C Lamont Gaillard (53) and G Justin Murray (71) both rotated into the game against the Rams.
C Lamont Gaillard (53) and G Justin Murray (71) both rotated into the game against the Rams.

Linemen in the NFL are mammoth physical specimens who battle similarly-built beasts every play.

For those in the defensive trenches, breathers are common, as players regularly bolt off the field for fresh replacements when their energy wanes.

On the offensive line, that is rarely the case, as teams prefer to keep all five of their starters on the field for 100 percent of the snaps. The Cardinals have bucked that tradition dating back to last season, oftentimes rotating in reserves for a series here and a series there.

It may not have been any more pronounced than on Sunday against the Rams. While tackles D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum played full-time, all three interior line spots saw a rotation.

Justin Murray filled in for guards Justin Pugh and J.R. Sweezy, while Lamont Gaillard gave center Mason Cole a breather. Cole played 48 of the 64 offensive snaps, Pugh 47, Sweezy 42, Murray 39 and Gaillard 16.

"We did it last year, and we saw towards the end of that season, we were very successful running the ball," Pugh said. "Guys were feeling good. Defensive linemen rotate every two series. They come in, and they all get 40-to-50 snaps, and that is the mentality that coach (Sean) Kugler has with this."

Murray and Gaillard both filled in capably this season when Sweezy and Cole had injuries. Kugler has regularly praised the depth of his position group, and coach Kliff Kingsbury said for the rotation to be worth it, there can't be a significant dropoff in production.

"We're always going to be trying to find ways that we can maximize those guys when they're out there, and if a guy can be better when he's fresh and we have an adequate player behind him, then we'll try to look into that," Kingsbury said.

An offensive line rotation is not common around the league, but the Cardinals' Week 13 opponent, the Giants, does it as well.

Reserve offensive tackle Matt Peart and reserve guard Will Hernandez both played more than 25 percent of the time against the Seahawks on Sunday.

"I think the old-school school of thought is you want to have five guys operating as one unit on the offensive line, where on the defensive line you want to keep guys fresh," Giants coach Joe Judge said. "For us, we're in a similar situation. We're rotating a lot of our offensive line right now. We've taken that approach, in terms of, No. 1, developing as many players as we can, and No. 2, keeping guys as fresh as we can, so throughout the course of a game we feel like we're better prepared."

Judge has watched game tape of the Cardinals this week, and believes their offensive line rotation has been helpful.

"It's working for them," Judge said. "They're doing a good job of developing players, and they've been effective. These guys protect the quarterback as well as anybody in the league."

There isn't a player in the NFL who'd prefer to be on the sidelines rather than the field, and it's not something a starting offensive lineman usually has to deal with.

Pugh said he's looking at the long-term upside of the Cardinals' rotation.

"It's not up to me," Pugh said. "Obviously I love being out there, but I also understand this could really help save our legs and take a game off of our bodies. Hopefully once we make that playoff push and get into the playoffs, it'll pay dividends."


Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and linebacker Isaiah Simmons didn't practice on Thursday with neck/back injuries. Neither was listed with an injury on Wednesday. Linebacker De'Vondre Campbell (ankle), cornerback Johnathan Joseph (neck) and safety Jalen Thompson (ankle) also didn't practice. Thompson has already been ruled out for Sunday.

Those limited were safety Charles Washington (groin) and running back Kenyan Drake (hip). Drake was not listed on the injury report on Wednesday.

For the Giants, quarterback Daniel Jones (hamstring) was limited, as were linebacker Blake Martinez (back), Peart (ankle) and defensive back Darnay Holmes (knee). Defensive back Madre Harper (knee) did not practice.

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