Cardinals right tackle D.J. Humphries works a drill at training camp on Saturday.
Right tackle D.J. Humphries' rookie season was notable for all the wrong reasons.
The Cardinals' 2015 first-round pick was infamously nicknamed "Knee-deep" by coach Bruce Arians last training camp because it took more than a foot in the rear to get him motivated. The regular season wasn't any better, as he was inactive for every game, not even trusted enough to be a backup.
Humphries was the youngest player on the team in 2015, and he acted like it.
"He was too immature," Arians said. "It had been easy his whole life. He just plugged in and started where he's been. It wasn't going to be that easy here. He had to learn how to work every single day, prepare every single day, and become a pro."
Said Humphries: "To be honest, this type of team, what they demand from a player, I wasn't ready to give that to the team last year."
Perhaps no one was happier to watch the calendar flip over to the 2016 season than Humphries. With the free-agent departure of Bobby Massie, Humphries was elevated to projected starting right tackle, which is where he sits as padded practices began at training camp on Sunday.
In a perfect world, Humphries can combine his natural athleticism with new-found strength and mental progress to become the cornerstone tackle the team envisioned. In an imperfect one, he struggles again and gets benched – pushing a once-promising career to a crossroads.
"My daddy's been telling me since I was little: 'Pressure busts pipes; pressure makes diamonds. Either you're going to bust, or you're going to be a diamond at the end of it,'" Humphries said. "My pipe busted last year. I've got a chance to make this thing into a diamond."
To his credit, Humphries fully grasps the immediacy of the moment. He's still a playful person, as evidenced by his response when asked about his physical improvement – "I got swole, man. Look at me," he said – but knows how much these next few weeks will mean to his career.
"I'm almost jitterish, I'm so anxious," said Humphries when asked about finally strapping on the pads. "I woke up this morning and I was dry heaving. My alarm woke me up and I thought I overslept and everything. I'm so anxious."
Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin will have a keen eye on how Humphries handles training camp and the preseason. While Goodwin believes Humphries is trending in the right direction, there's still plenty of work to be done to nail down the starting job.
"Nobody said he was ready," Goodwin said. "He's closer, but he's not ready. (Sunday) is a big day for him, to be truly honest with you. In pads, coming off of last season not doing anything, being a spectator, being a fan of what we were doing out there as a team. He should be hungry. I think he's grown up a whole lot. He's more mature. He's not quite there yet. He's not a starter yet. He's a participant. Hopefully he becomes a starter."
Last week, the Cardinals signed veteran free agent cornerback Mike Jenkins and veteran linebacker Donald Butler to address positions of need. Right tackle is frequently talked about as well, but as of now, no veteran has been added to challenge Humphries.
"To see that not happen, clearly I'm doing something right," Humphries said. "Clearly they know I'm taking it seriously. Clearly they see me making effort and strides."
After a wayward drift as a rookie, Humphries has settled on the right path, becoming more physically and mentally prepared. Will he reach his destination and solidify the right tackle spot in 2016?
"It's going to happen," Humphries said. "I don't even think about what it's going to feel like. I know it's a process. Every phase of football I've ever started, I had to rise from a deficit my first year, whether it be high school, college. I had to step back and look at it, like, this is not new to me. I've been in this situation before. Three times in my life for the past decade, or whatever. I know what I've got to do, and I'm excited. I know I can play in this league."
Images from the second day of training camp