Dating back to offseason workouts, Steve Wilks has been an unwavering supporter of the Cardinals' offensive line.
Even before the team put on pads, the first-year coach anointed that group the strength of his team. Between injury and age concerns, it was easy to question the notion, but through two preseason games, the line is backing up the claim.
The run-blocking and pass protection from the starters has been impressive, as the Cardinals' blueprint of power football has been on display against the Chargers and Saints.
"I think they've accepted the challenge and they have taken a lot of pride in that," Wilks said.
Veteran left guard Mike Iupati has shined the brightest. He has accumulated a 97.2 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in his 31 snaps, which is the best grade among any NFL player. Iupati, 31, missed all but one game last season with a bone spur in his arm but used the time off to revamp his body.
"I was on (injured reserve)," Iupati said. "I might as well get better, lift hard and get my body right. I just knew that I had to come and prove myself back. This is my last year here, so I've got to go out with a bang."
Iupati is quiet off the field and not generally demonstrative on it, but left tackle D.J. Humphries has seen a new version of him this preseason.
"When I see Mikey beating his chest in the game, (yelling) 'Let's go bro,' it's like, 'Oh, it's going down right here today,'" Humphries said. "'Mikey's hyped. We're in rare form this evening.' Playing beside that dude, you see a guy like that riled up, you just need to get out of the way at that point and let him do his thing."
Iupati is a dominant run-blocker at his best, which is a perfect fit for Wilks' philosophy. If the Cardinals can regularly establish the run in 2018, it increases the success rate of play-action and slows down the opposing pass-rush.
"When those guys are playing as well as they are right now, I think it really just opens the playbook," quarterback Sam Bradford said.
Wilks has said repeatedly the offensive line is the key to the entire offensive operation, a continued emphasis that has ingrained itself in Humphries' head.
"We're going to do our job every snap anyway because that's just how it is, but when that spotlight is on you, it's definitely a lot different," Humphries said. "You're that guy where everybody's depending on you."
LINEBACKERS ON THE MEND
Linebacker Josh Bynes (neck) was limited in practice, Wilks said, and is expected to get increased work as the week moves along. Linebacker Deone Bucannon (knee) was suited up during the open portion of practice.
Wide receiver Brice Butler (foot) was working on the side. Defensive tackles Robert Nkemdiche (foot) and Corey Peters (knee) were not present.
BOEHM SHOWS VERSATILITY
Third-year lineman Evan Boehm started eight games at guard last season and played there in the first preseason game. He played center against the Saints after Daniel Munyer's snapping troubles in the opener.
Versatility is a prerequisite for backup linemen and Boehm brings that.
"When you start to shape your (53-man roster), those are some of the combinations you look for, guys that can give you position flex," Wilks said. "That's very intriguing."
Images of the Cardinals' second preseason game in New Orleans