INDIANAPOLIS – The Cardinals drafted D.J. Humphries in the first round of the 2015 draft and then plopped him on the bench for his entire rookie season.
The left tackle had the athleticism to succeed in the NFL, but the transition from the college to NFL game proved challenging. It has been a common theme for the Cardinals in recent years, as many young offensive linemen have struggled to adapt from the spread systems in college to pro-style schemes.
“I've never anticipated a day where I evaluated a guy in college who through four years didn't get into a three-point stance one time,” General Manager Steve Keim said on Wednesday from the NFL Scouting combine. “I think back to 1991 when I entered N.C. State. For two days, I think that's all we did, was get into a three-point stance and perfect it. Where your hips are, where your eyes are, those type of things.
“In today's day and age, there are a number of guys who have never been in a three-point stance. Transferring your weight, the explosiveness of your hips, all the things that come with playing that position, it’s different.”
For years, that lack of preparation caused NFL coaches to pull their hair out. In 2019, instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, the Cardinals may simply change the shape of the hole.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury is expected to implement college concepts in his first season directing the offense, which could breed familiarity for rookie linemen that join the team. The Cardinals have a clear need at the position, through the draft or free agency, after the unit struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness in 2018.
While Kingsbury cautioned that the jump in competition will still challenge the youngsters, it seems like a Humphries-type redshirt year is not a formality.
“I think it’s tough no matter what,” Kingsbury said. “I think that the level of defensive line play is so incredible that it’s going to be a shock to the system no matter what. I guess guys that played in a similar offense in college may have a bit of an easier transition just being in a system they’re familiar with.”
Dru Samia played in the Air Raid at Oklahoma, and the guard prospect said one of his biggest adjustments to the NFL will be picking up the pro-style schemes. He smiled when asked what it would be like to ease that transition by joining the Cardinals.
“It would be awesome,” Samia said. “I’m lucky and blessed wherever I end up going, but to be able to go to an offense that’s similar offense to Oklahoma, I feel like that would be a cool landing spot.”
Samia said his Air Raid background has not been viewed as a deficiency by NFL teams. In fact, the opposite is true.
“I think they’re seeing the positives of how offensive linemen have to be athletic and conditioned as well as being big and strong,” Samia said.
Keim knows this is the new NFL. The chasm in style between college and pro football has caused the team some issues in the past, but the switch to Kingsbury could make it a more symbiotic relationship moving forward.
“Those foot-to-foot maulers, those don’t really exist anymore,” Keim said. “You have to be able to bend your knees, change direction and play in space in almost every system. I think that Kliff, his schematical approach is probably going to be a little different than most we have seen in the NFL and it'll probably lend itself to the offensive linemen that are very athletic.”
Images of the Cardinals at the NFL Scouting combine in past years