The Cardinals would like 2015 No. 1 pick D.J. Humphries (74) and 2013 No. 1 pick Jonathan Cooper (61) to earn starting spots on the 2016 offensive line.
D.J. Humphries’ iPad is stuffed with practice clips. His own.
The Cardinals’ offensive tackle made sure the videos were kept in place, marking his progress from training camp through the end of the season. He’d watch everything, from how fast he’d move his hands to how he was jogging to the line out of the huddle.
The team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2015 was never active for a game, not once. Now, his “redshirt” year is over, and the Cardinals will need more going forward.
“Sitting down and talking to the older guys and getting messages from (Bruce Arians), it’s just took me a little longer than most,” Humphries said. “It’s starting to click for me.”
The Cardinals have spent two of three No. 1 draft picks in the Steve Keim/Bruce Arians era on offensive linemen: Guard
Jonathan Cooper in 2013, and Humphries this past draft. To not have either starting by year’s end – Cooper lost a starting job to Ted Larsen midway through the season – isn’t ideal.
“I think (Humphries) is going to be fine, I think Coop is going to be fine,” coach Bruce Arians said. “I really do.”
There is open opportunity. The two players starting ahead of them -- right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Larsen – are both scheduled to be unrestricted free agents. But at this point, neither is willing to come out and say a starting spot is theirs.
“I’m just working,” Cooper said. “I want to improve. As long as I improve and become a better player than I was this year, and be a consistently great player, everything else will work out.”
“I’m competing for any spot on the offensive line,” Humphries said. “I don’t really care if it’s tight end. I’m just trying to get on the grass to help this team.”
For Humphries, the athleticism has not been questioned, although he is a natural left tackle. He has had to learn how to play the right side, and has needed to mature on the NFL level, to understand the focus that comes with the job.
Interestingly, defensive tackle Calais Campbell said Humphries has made him a better player with a quickly improving Humphries on the scout team – playing left tackle.
Humphries needs to add upper body strength, but he feels like going up against defenders like Dwight Freeney and Campbell in practice improved his game over the past season – making him far different than the player who was tagged with the nickname “Knee Deep” in training camp.
“I wasn’t ready and I had to sit down and learn for a while,” Humphries said.
Humphries at least is just starting out. Cooper faces a critical juncture in his career, unable to have reached the everyday lineup after three seasons. His rookie season was derailed by a broken leg in the preseason, an injury he hadn’t quite gotten past by his second year.
Cooper was the starter on the right side coming out of training camp, although Larsen was needed on the left side with an injury to Mike Iupati. Cooper – who like Humphries had to learn the switch from left to right this year because of Iupati’s arrival – started the first nine games before hurting his knee. Larsen replaced him, and Cooper never got back in the lineup.
Cooper insists his frustrations come from internal expectations and not the weight of being a first-round pick. He also acknowledged a mental battle and the need to have his “headspace” right, saying that too often he will allow mistakes to linger in his head, or take coaching criticism too personally.
“I can’t let that happen anymore,” Cooper said, adding “I just feel like I’m in store for something great.”
At least right now, Arians is backing his former first-rounders.
“The last half of the season, I’d have had no problems playing (Humphries),” Arians said. “I wouldn’t tell him that, but I had a ton of confidence in him.”
“I like our offensive line, where it’s at,” Arians added. “The young guys on the practice squad, I think, have really good futures. Then, both number one picks, I think, are going to be good players. I think we’re fine there.”
The Cardinals hope so. It’d be good if Humphries could fill his iPad with game footage and not just practice work.
“I’ll probably get it all cleared off soon,” Humphries said. “Start again on 2016.”
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