It was a picturesque Monday afternoon, as intermittent cloud cover and gorgeous weather made for an idyllic start to the Cardinals’ organized team activities.
The conditions weren’t the only reason why the Cardinals’ offensive line group was feeling good.
Four starters who had their 2018 seasons cut short by injury -- center A.Q. Shipley, guard Justin Pugh, left tackle D.J. Humphries and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (who was with the Steelers) – were on the field during the portion open to the media.
The Cardinals’ offensive line was besieged by injuries a year ago, which contributed to a meager offensive showing, and the group is ready to turn the page.
“Obviously last year did not go the way we wanted in any aspect,” Pugh said. “On the field, off the field. We had a rough year last year, but we come out here and get a fresh start.”
Shipley was lost in training camp to a torn ACL, while Pugh (hand/knee) missed nine games, Humphries (knee) missed seven and Gilbert (knee) missed 11.
Gilbert was added via trade and guard J.R. Sweezy was signed in free agency to bolster a group that allowed 52 sacks last season and didn’t pave enough holes in the run game. Outside perception still considers this unit a weakness, but much of that is due to injury concerns.
The linemen must prove they can stay healthy, but for now coach Kliff Kingsbury said everyone is “on schedule” in their rehabilitation and he’s glad they are on the field as a new system gets implemented.
“I like what we’re seeing,” Kingsbury said. “They’ve been able to do some stuff that’s allowed them to be locked in and keep up with the installs.”
There is a lot of pressure on the group to rebound in 2019, especially with No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray at quarterback. He is an electric dual threat talent but is also small for a QB at 5-foot-10 and 207 pounds. The line must keep him as clean as possible.
The Cardinals want their five best linemen on the field not only for their talent but also for cohesiveness. It is something that has been severely lacking the past few years.
“I feel like the biggest key is building chemistry with the offensive line, because all five play together as one,” Gilbert said. “The continuity, the language we speak across the line, and just getting calls and being able to trust the guy next to you. At this standpoint, I think we’re doing a hell of a job so far. Just keep building.”
Humphries is noticeably more chiseled this offseason as he tries to be proactive to stave off injuries, and is pledging to take things slowly to avoid aggravating his knee injury.
While the injury history among the projected starters cannot be ignored, Humphries is optimistic the group can stay healthy and become a strength in 2019.
“We all went through something last season,” Humphries said. “We’re going to figure this out and we’re going to roll with it, and we’re going to be better than we were last year.”
Images from the first OTA of the 2019 offseason