There were moments during offseason work in which J.R. Sweezy and Lamont Gaillard played the role of defensive linemen.
They grabbed padded shields off the ground and held them to their chest, allowing other offensive linemen to work on technique and execution.
In an alternate universe, the Cardinals’ duo would have been more than just placeholders in this scenario.
“I always thought I was going to be somebody big on the defensive line,” Gaillard said. “The guy that always got all the praise.”
Gaillard and Sweezy are rare breeds, a pair of former defensive linemen who stalled out at the position but reinvented themselves on the offensive line.
Sweezy, 30, is in his eighth NFL season and will be a starting guard for the Cardinals this fall. Gaillard, 23, became an all-conference center at Georgia and was drafted by the Cardinals in the sixth round in April.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said the defensive backgrounds of Sweezy and Gaillard have played a role in their success.
“Both of those guys just like hitting people,” Kingsbury said. “That was a great change for both of them. Both very tough and play with a great tenacity. So you can tell they come from the other side of the ball.”
Sweezy played four seasons of defensive line at North Carolina State, but his chances of getting drafted at the position were slim. The Seahawks tried him on the offensive line in the 2012 pre-draft process and asked if he’d be willing to make the transition.
“I told them I’d do whatever,” said Sweezy, who was selected by Seattle in the seventh round. “Those first few years were somewhat of a blur trying to figure it out. But it was a great switch, a great opportunity for me.”
Gaillard signed with Georgia as a heralded defensive tackle recruit but redshirted as a freshman, and wasn’t making much progress up the depth chart in spring ball of 2015. Gaillard said he approached the coaching staff about switching to offensive line.
“Technique-wise I was already there, and my skillset and anger were already there just to get on the field,” Gaillard said. “It worked out for the best.”
Sweezy’s first career game on the offensive line came at State Farm Stadium against the Cardinals in 2012. His task was to slow down Pro Bowl defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, and it didn’t go well.
“He took advantage of me,” Sweezy said with a laugh. “They took it to us. I think I got benched after that game, for a few weeks. Thrown to the wolves, for sure. But honestly, as bad as it sucked, it helped.”
Gaillard played two games at guard as a redshirt freshman and then became a full-time starter at guard and center his final three seasons with the Bulldogs. He said playing defense has paid dividends in the chess match at the line of scrimmage.
“I learned a lot of things,” Gaillard said. “How they attack things, how they use technique, how they blitz. It’s just easier for me to read the defense because I already know the fronts and I know how the safety moves.”
Sweezy and Gaillard have chatted about their similar paths to the NFL. There are some differences between them, but a never-quit philosophy is apparent in both.
“In the NFL, the mindset is that I just want a chance,” Sweezy said. “If you have that mindset and you’re willing to do whatever, you’re going to be all right.”
The top images from the Cardinals' on-field work in 2019