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Cardinals' Offensive Line Hopes To Remain Together

Group stayed healthier, played better than expected in 2019

From left: G J.R. Sweezy, C A.Q. Shipley, G Justin Pugh and T D.J. Humphries played in every game in 2019
From left: G J.R. Sweezy, C A.Q. Shipley, G Justin Pugh and T D.J. Humphries played in every game in 2019

The Cardinals have the rarest of luxuries – a burgeoning star quarterback on a rookie contract – and it is imperative to upgrade the roster quickly while Kyler Murray is cheap.

Steve Keim is in position to do so, with the requisite cap space to fill holes and a nice bounty of draft picks, including No. 8 overall. Still, the resources never feel like enough, and the Cardinals' general manager must decide where to allocate them this offseason.

For the past several years, one of the top focuses has been adding to the offensive line. In 2020, that is more up for debate.

While the 2019 season opened with skepticism, the group stayed healthy and performed admirably.

The Cardinals set a franchise-record in yards per carry and finished No. 10 in the NFL in ESPN’s pass-block win rate, holding back pass-rushers for 2.5 seconds or more 46 percent of the time. Even though Murray's sack total – 48 – was high, Pro Football Focus faulted the blockers on only 25 of them.

Durability never became an issue, as left tackle D.J. Humphries, left guard Justin Pugh, center A.Q. Shipley and right guard J.R. Sweezy started every game. Even though right tackle Marcus Gilbert (torn ACL) was lost for the season before the opener, waiver wire pickup Justin Murray stepped in capably.

"Tremendous effort by those guys, and they continued to get better and better," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "Coach (Sean) Kugler, I've said it all year, he creates a great culture in that room. They play hard, they play together, and it made it a lot of fun to be around them."

Humphries and Shipley are impending unrestricted free agents, but if it were up to the linemen, next season would have a familiar feel up front.

"This has been the most fun I've had playing football," Pugh said. "This group of guys has been the best group of guys I've been around. I'm hoping we can keep this group together."

While playing in the NFL is a high-profile job, it's still a job. Sometimes co-workers get along, and sometimes they don't. There was an unmistakable connection within the offensive line room in 2019.

"We don't have any (expletives), nobody who wants to be lazy and don't want to do nothing," Humphries said. "We've got a bunch of rule-following cats that want to be good and are eager to be good every day. And we've got a coach who wants to coach the (expletive) out of us.

"It goes hand-in-hand. They found the right guys to put into the room and motivate each other, and they kept the right guys. It speaks to the identity we want to be. I'm super excited at how it folded together. It's amazing. Like I was telling the boys the other day, this is definitely my favorite group since I've been in the league."

Chemistry at any position can be valuable, but maybe nowhere moreso than the offensive line, where communication can be vital. It seemed to be no accident that the blocking improved week by week.

"You learn from each other," Shipley said. "You become more cohesive as a unit as the year goes on."

The Cardinals aren't young on the offensive line, and right tackle, particularly, seems like a spot that could be ripe for a change, but there no longer seems to be a dire need for an overhaul.

While Pugh admits roster-building is high above his security clearance, he hopes Keim churns other position groups this offseason and leaves his alone.

"I love working with these guys, and coach Kugs, and coach (Brian) Natkin, the assistant offensive line coach," Pugh said. "Those two guys had us prepared every single week. Unbelievable coaches. And this group of guys, the best group of offensive linemen I've been around, top to bottom. … It was a very fun year for me."

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray gifted his linemen Phat Scooters for Christmas