<br> <span style="font-size: xx-small;">Cardinals offensive tackle Jared Veldheer in action on Thursday against the Seahawks.</span><br> <br> <br>
It’s been nearly a decade since Jared Veldheer left Hillsdale College, but his story sounds like that of a recent graduate.
A new job this year forced the Cardinals’ offensive lineman to leave his comfort zone. For those in their early 20s, it’s often relocation across state borders. For Veldheer, it was a move across the offensive line.
The eight-year NFL veteran initially struggled in his transition from left to right tackle, but eventually found a groove, making others wonder if he was ready to settle down there permanently.
But the allure of where you started never dissipates, and when left tackle D.J. Humphries went down with a season-ending knee injury last Thursday against the Seahawks, Veldheer knew it was time to return.
“It’s kind of fun going back to the spot I’ve been at all through college and my NFL career,” Veldheer said. “It feels like I’m kind of going back home.”
Veldheer dutifully moved to right tackle this offseason as Humphries emerged as a franchise cornerstone, but speaks with conviction about his ability on the left side. It’s the glory spot on the offensive line, and the position he played well enough to earn a lucrative free-agent deal from the Cardinals back in 2014.
“I know I’m a good left tackle,” Veldheer said, “and I know I can go over there and do a good job.”
When Humphries missed time earlier this season with a sprained knee, Veldheer stayed at right tackle so his progress wouldn’t be stunted. But with Humphries out for the season, coach Bruce Arians wanted to set up his best lineup moving forward, which meant putting Veldheer back at left tackle and inserting John Wetzel at right.
There have been minor adjustments as Veldheer switches back, but nothing like the massive overhaul he underwent on the right side.
“It’s fine-tuning instead of starting over,” Veldheer said.
Veldheer will get thrown into the fire immediately. The Texans no longer have star defensive end J.J. Watt, but former No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is playing at a high level. Texans coach Bill O’Brien said the Cardinals’ offensive line changes won’t have much impact on where Clowney lines up.
“We have a guy in J.D. that can do a lot of different things,” O’Brien said. “He can play, obviously, outside on the end of the line of scrimmage. He can play inside, and then he can play on the second level. So we try to move him around based on some of the things that suit his skill-set, more than going against a certain guy.”
Arians said Veldheer has transitioned fine back to left tackle in practice this week, although “it’s going to be a tough job blocking Clowney (even) if you’re out there all year.”
After digesting some tape this week, Veldheer knows what he is up against.
“He’s an athletic freak, and he can be anywhere on a play,” Veldheer said. “He can start on one side of the field, end up on the other side of the field and make four guys miss. He’s disruptive.”
As the Cowboys can attest, a team that loses its starting left tackle can be in dire straits. The Cardinals won’t have Humphries the rest of the way, and protection is paramount with a backup quarterback -- be it Drew Stanton or Blaine Gabbert -- behind center.
Despite that crucial loss, there is hope Veldheer will return to his blindside spot with minimal complications.
“The thing he said to me was, ‘It’s like riding a bike,’” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Hopefully he’s right.”