D.J. Humphries could bathe in the praise if he so chose.
It’s been a dramatic transformation for the second-year offensive tackle, who entered the season battling the notion he was a first-round flop and has instead shown why the Cardinals drafted him so high in the first place.
After sitting his entire rookie year, Humphries has been a mainstay on an offensive line which has undergone radical changes. He moved from right to left tackle on Sunday against the Falcons and was given positive reviews by both General Manager Steve Keim and coach Bruce Arians.
“I couldn’t ask for anything more out of him,” Arians said of Humphries’ play this season.
The outside adulation has followed, and if Humphries never went through the tribulations of 2015, maybe he would soak it in. However, he has no intention of forgetting his first NFL season -- one spent completely on the sideline getting derisively called “Knee Deep,” the nickname doled out because Arians said Humphries so lacked urgency that a foot in the rear wasn’t enough motivation.
“It kind of helped me keep stuff in perspective,” Humphries said. “I was a rookie and I didn’t play a snap and they called me a bust. Now they’re talking about how good I’m playing. It’s just understanding that it’s all smoke and mirrors and bull (expletive), knowing that it doesn’t matter.
“I’ve got to come out and play my game and play hard. Outside opinions don’t matter. What’s going on in this building and what’s thought of me in this building is the only thing that really matters. That’s what I learned from the whole ‘Knee Deep’ (expletive).”
It all clicked for Humphries last spring, when Bobby Massie’s free agent departure opened a clear path to the starting right tackle job. There was conjecture the Cardinals would bring in a veteran to compete for the spot, but they handed it to Humphries, and instead of resting on his laurels, he excelled.
“There was no accepting defeat for me mentally,” Humphries said. “That was a big part of my offseason. I had it in my head that nobody was going to beat me out.”
Humphries moved to left tackle last week with Jared Veldheer lost for the season due to injury and John Wetzel ineffective in his stead. Humphries played left tackle at the University of Florida, and even though he hadn’t practiced it this season, didn’t miss a beat against the Falcons.
“Like nothing,” Arians said. “That’s his natural position. That’s what he’s played his whole life.”
Left tackles are one of the most integral pieces to an offense because they protect the quarterback’s blind-side. If Carson Palmer is jumpy in the pocket, it can derail pass plays, but he felt comfortable with Humphries protecting him.
“It seems impossible if you say somebody is going to go from right tackle to left tackle after one week, but he did it about as fluidly as you would expect,” Palmer said. “I think it’s just going to get better and better each week.”
Injuries to Veldheer and Evan Mathis have made the offensive line a major question mark for the rest of 2016, but looking forward, Humphries’ progress is a critical development.
Veldheer will be back next season, and now Arians feels like he has two legitimate left tackle options. Humphries didn’t want to speculate about where he will end up.
“That’s one of them decisions above my pay grade,” Humphries said. “Come to work, they tell me where to go. I bust my (expletive) and then go in the meeting room and fix it from there.”
Sunday wasn’t perfect. While Humphries didn’t allow a sack, his man pressured Palmer at times. While he has improved noticeably in the past calendar year, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin is keeping the pressure on.
“He’s still ‘Knee Deep,’” Goodwin said. “D.J.’s a guy that you’ve got to stay on and be on. The good thing about D.J., he wants to be good, so it won’t be an issue.”
Nickname or not, Humphries is clearly out of the coaches’ doghouse. Now it’s about continuing to ascend. When asked if he felt like he had arrived after last week’s performance, Humphries scoffed.
“(Expletive) no,” Humphries said. “Excuse my French. No. I’ll arrive when I make it as an All-Pro. That’s arriving.”