Jared Veldheer (right) at his new position alongside tight end Jermaine Gresham.
D.J. Humphries was waiting for a side-eye that never came.
One of the Cardinals’ biggest moves this offseason wasn’t an addition or subtraction, but a shuffling of two vital pieces. After one season on the bench and most of another at right tackle, the coaching staff felt like Humphries, a former first-round pick, was ready to assume the all-important left tackle role in 2017.
That meant, though, that blind-side cornerstone Jared Veldheer would move to the right side. The Cardinals’ marquee free agent signing in 2014, Veldheer voiced his preference to remain at left tackle the day after the 2016 season, and so Humphries wondered how their first post-decision conversation would go.
“I was like, ‘This is going to be interesting,’” Humphries said.
Within a matter of seconds, Humphries knew having his locker next to Veldheer at the Cardinals’ practice facility wasn’t going to result in a season of awkwardness.
“It wasn’t a big deal,” Humphries said. “He’s a great teammate. He’s not one of those people with a huge ego. When we came in in the offseason, he was just like, ‘This is what it’s going to be. We’re going to be good, too.’ It was more of that, like, ‘I’ve been practicing this, and I hope you have, too. We’re going to be really (expletive) good.’”
Naturally, Veldheer still has some reservations as he transitions from a spot he excelled at to one he’s never played before. However, he heads out to the practice field each day aiming for progress.
“I think we’re all creatures of habit, and whatever’s unknown is kind of scary at first,” Veldheer said. “Especially when you’ve had success with one thing, you ask yourself: ‘Well, if I move, will I be all right?’ Because you just don’t know. But that’s where you just trust in the plan God has for you, work hard, and take those principles that made you successful on the (left) side and take them to the other side.”
For Veldheer, the battle is in his mind. He’s always kicked out with his left foot first, followed by his right. Now that he has to do the opposite, Veldheer must override his subconscious.
“I wouldn’t categorize it as easy or hard,” Veldheer said. “I think it’s just getting to the point where you can get that muscle memory. Your body, after doing it for years and years on one side, wants to take that position when you’re telling it to go block somebody. So it’s just that process of getting those reps down.
“We’re going a little faster in this phase, and it will probably be different again (in OTAs). Then it will be different again in training camp, and it will be different again in the preseason, you know what I mean? There’s that curve of getting there. I understand it’s a process. There’s nothing to say it can’t be done. You’ve just got to do it and put in the time.”
While Veldheer seems satisfied with his development thus far, he knows blocking imaginary defenders isn’t close to battling real ones. He’s glad other key variables have remained the same – Veldheer has great familiarity with the playbook and his teammates – but the moment of truth will come later.
“You can go hit balls on the driving range, but when you get out there on the course, it’s a little different,” Veldheer said. “It’ll be the same way. That’s when you can really see and test stuff to know what you really need to work on.”
On paper, this is the alignment that seems most ideal for the Cardinals. Humphries has the natural athleticism and bend to hold elite blind-side pass-rushers at bay. Veldheer may not have the same movement skills, but he’s technically proficient and possesses the ability to become an upper-tier right tackle.
This wasn’t Veldheer’s preference, but he’s come to terms with the switch, and now he’s looking to make the most of it.
“New goal,” Veldheer said. “Be one of the best on the right side.”
Images from Wednesday's Phase 2 work