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Change The Only Constant On The Offensive Line

Injuries have hit position group hard in 2018

Joe Barskdale has started at right tackle since joining the Cardinals and would like to return in 2019.
Joe Barskdale has started at right tackle since joining the Cardinals and would like to return in 2019.

The Cardinals' offensive linemen have a group chat, and guard Justin Pugh pinged everyone recently so he could send them invites to a New Year's Eve party.

He did a double-take when some foreign numbers responded.

"There were a few times I got first names and I was like, wait, give me your last name one more time," Pugh said.

The Cardinals have suffered key injuries across the board in 2018, but nowhere more obvious than the offensive line. Four projected starters – Pugh, center A.Q. Shipley, left tackle D.J. Humphries and right guard Mike Iupati – are on injured reserve, as are guard Jeremy Vujnovich and tackles John Wetzel and Korey Cunningham.

It's resulted in plenty of shuffling, as centers Mason Cole and Daniel Munyer are the only two healthy linemen remaining from the start of the season.

"I've never seen an O-line go down like this," Pugh said.

The Cardinals will aim to patch it together one more time in 2018. When the calendar flips to the offseason, much attention will be paid to General Manager Steve Keim's construction of the position group.

Pugh should slot in at a guard spot – he doesn't care which side – while Humphries is expected to be the left tackle again on his fifth-year option. Cole and Shipley are under contract, so the biggest question marks are the remaining guard and tackle positions.

Veteran Joe Barksdale was signed on Dec. 5 and immediately took over as the right tackle. Pro Football Focus has given him a 62.6 overall grade with the Cardinals. While the analytics site believes his run-blocking has been subpar, Barksdale's pass-blocking grade of 76.3 is impressive.

Barksdale is scheduled to be a free agent but wants to return.

"I love it here," Barksdale said. "I really like the guys and the organization is really classy. I've had nothing but good things to say since I've gotten here."