When Mason Cole received a call from offensive line coach Sean Kugler last August, it was bad news.
After starting every game his rookie season, Cole was headed to the bench after losing the center competition to A.Q. Shipley.
Kugler called again this offseason with a better message.
The Cardinals have handed the center job back to the 24-year-old former third-round pick, with the idea that Cole can grow alongside quarterback Kyler Murray and a promising Cardinals offense.
"After a year of being in the background, being a backup, I'm just really looking forward to being back out there all the time," Cole said. "I'm obviously hoping to have a good year, and hopefully one of these years make the Pro Bowl."
Cole was forced into action as a rookie in 2018 because Shipley tore his ACL in training camp. Looking back, Cole said he had some good moments but also made his share of mistakes.
Last season was completely foreign, as Cole was relegated to backup duty for the first time in his life. He started every game in his four years at East Lake High School in Florida and did the same at Michigan.
"It's a year that I'd never really had, so I think in a weird way, having that year off actually really helped me," Cole said. "It helped me learn from the older guys and it helped me see the room from a different perspective."
Even though it came behind-the-scenes, Cole felt like he made serious progress as a player.
"This past year, I probably made my biggest jump technique-wise and performance-wise that I've probably made in my whole career," Cole said.
The Cardinals felt the improvement merited a promotion as they allowed Shipley, 34, to become a free agent. While last year's sixth-round pick, Lamont Gaillard, is another option at center, coach Kliff Kingsbury and general manager Steve Keim have both pegged Cole to be the starter.
Left tackle D.J. Humphries said there is one characteristic that stands out about Cole – his willingness to mix it up in the trenches. From Aaron Donald on down, Humphries said Cole never backs down from a challenge.
"You have to like that," Humphries said. "In the fight or flight instinct, he's going to fight every time."
Like his teammates, Cole has been unable to hit the field this offseason, but it's still been a busy time. He got married in February – though the honeymoon was delayed due to COVID-19 – and announced Sunday that he and wife Madison are expecting a son in January.
As Cole's family grows, he's confident his career will, too.
"I always try to look at myself, watching film, positively but critically at the same time," Cole said. "There were some good things I did as a rookie, but from that year to going onto this year now, I think there have been, in my game personally, a lot of strides."
Images from the 2009 Super Bowl between the Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Listen to the re-air on Wednesday at 6 p.m. on 98.7 FM, Arizona's Sports Station.