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Cardinals Will Have Open Competition For Starting Center Job

Offensive line decisions must be made this offseason

C Mason Cole started 14 games for the Cardinals last season.
C Mason Cole started 14 games for the Cardinals last season.

The Cardinals' top two centers from 2020 are under contract next season, but there's no guarantee either will be the starter come the fall.

Incumbent Mason Cole and backup Lamont Gaillard will aim to lock down that role, but run game coordinator/offensive line coach Sean Kugler said another player could be added to that mix this offseason.

"The center position last year had its ups and downs," Kugler said. "Both those guys at times played extremely well. Both those guys at times struggled, both being young players. They're both hard workers, they both like the game of football, and I think they are both going to improve. …

"If we add somebody, they're going to be right in the mix. It's going to be open competition. The best guy is going to win that job."

Cole started 14 games last season at center. He was given a Pro Football Focus grade of 54.4. Gaillard played in 13 games last season and started a pair. His PFF grade was 48.1.

Cole is heading into his fourth NFL season in 2021, Gaillard his third.

"The center position overall, I think, needs to take the next step, to get better to help our offense," Kugler said.

The Cardinals could go a number of different ways on the line this offseason, looking for upgrades or standing pat with these potential starters under contract: D.J. Humphries at left tackle; Justin Pugh at left guard; Cole or Gaillard at center; Justin Murray at right guard and Josh Jones at right tackle.

Jones didn't start last season after being drafted in the third round. Veteran starter Kelvin Beachum is an impending free agent, while veteran Marcus Gilbert is under contract for 2021 after opting out of last season due to COVID-19.

Jones projects as an offensive tackle of the future for the Cardinals, but it's unclear if he will start on the right side in 2021.

"I thought he handled his rookie year extremely well," Kugler said. "Not only on the field but in the room. He's a very talented young man and he likes football. We're very excited about him. He offers position flexibility. He can play tackle, he can play guard. We'll see where that goes as we get into the offseason. He's a very good pick for us and he's going to be an outstanding lineman for the future of the Cardinals."

Guard J.R. Sweezy is an impending free agent, but Murray usurped him as the starter down the stretch and will aim to hold the job.

"(Murray) was very consistent," Kugler said. "He was not highly penalized. I think he gave up one sack on the year. He's got a lot of things he's got to get better in, and he knows that, but, man, I trust that guy to put in the work to do that. I expect him to get better and better. He cares about the game of football."

As for the players running behind the line, Chase Edmonds figures to have a substantive role next year, but it's still unclear if he will become the No. 1 running back with starter Kenyan Drake heading toward free agency.

Edmonds, who averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season and added 402 receiving yards, is explosive but only 5-foot-9 and 210 pounds.

"Chase is a smaller guy by height and weight, but he's very solid, very durable, tough kid," Kugler said. "I think he's an outstanding running back, and I think Kenyan Drake is an outstanding running back. I think we've got two very good running backs. We'll see how that plays out as the offseason goes."

Images of the Cardinals' top ballcarriers during the regular season.