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Offensive Line Benefits From Emergence Of Josh Jones

Pugh, Beachum, Justin Murray remain questions for Sunday in Los Angeles

Tackle Josh Jones lines up for a play against the Jaguars last week.
Tackle Josh Jones lines up for a play against the Jaguars last week.

Josh Jones , at 6-foot-5, thought he was a "hooper" until his junior year of high school.

"Guys were 6-5 and playing point guard so I was like, 'I probably need to make a business decision,' " the Cardinals' second-year offensive lineman said.

Jones finally started his football career as a high school junior, eventually becoming the Cards' third-pick and perceived steal of the draft in 2020. And if Jones was able to switch sports, how difficult could it have really been for him to slide from starting right guard to starting right tackle last week against the Jaguars?

It was no issue for Jones, who had played left tackle his football life before the Cardinals offensive line coach Sean Kugler got his hands on him. But on a team where the idea has been to build versatility and depth at offensive line – crucial with two starters unsure if they can play against the dominant defensive line of the Rams Sunday – Jones' development has been a godsend.

Jones began the season at right guard, and when starting right tackle Kelvin Beachum hurt his ribs in Week Two, Justin Murray stepped in there. But in Jacksonville, Jones was out at right tackle, and Murray at guard.

Kugler said that was the Cardinals' best option, and shut out Jaguars pass rusher Josh Allen. While Jones will still have some growing pains, "he's a relentless worker and he has a veteran attitude and is getting better every day."

"He is certainly one of our best five," Kugler added.

Because of that, Jones will find his way into the lineup Sunday regardless. Beachum remains sidelined, as does both Murray and starting left guard Justin Pugh, each of whom hurt their back on Sunday. Kugler said right now, he doesn't know what the line will look like in Los Angeles.

If all three are down again, Jones will remain at right tackle, with Sean Harlow at left guard and Max Garcia at right guard – a group that played well Sunday. That was because of veteran center Rodney Hudson, a man the Cards will count on with Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald waiting.

"A lot of the credit for last week, having two new guys come in the game, that goes to Rodney Hudson," Kugler said. "There was no panic on the sidelines, there was no panic in the game. He took those guys and communicated with them and it looked like they stepped in and had been starting."

Handling Donald will be a monumental task, with Kugler noting the Rams move him to all positions on the line – which he plays all at a Pro Bowl level – to find a weak link.

"I think he's the best player in the NFL," Kugler said.

Jones said he looks forward to the challenge, although who he might match up against will depend on whether he's at guard or tackle. His confidence is obvious as he speaks, a player far from his rookie season when he barely played.

There were high hopes when he arrived as the undervalued draft pick, but sitting and watching echoed the same path current left tackle D.J. Humphries took as a rookie. Jones talked to Humphries about it, and looking back, said mostly sitting in 2020 "was really good for me."

Like his long-ago move away from basketball, "it worked out," Jones said.

EXTRA POINTS

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (ribs) returned to practice Thursday for the first time since before the Vikings game, although the three offensive linemen – Pugh, Murray, Beachum -- remained out. Running back Eno Benjamin (hamstring) appeared on the injury report as limited. For the Rams, wide receiver TuTu Atwell (illness) and linebacker Terrell Lewis (rest) didn't practice, while cornerback Robert Rochell (illness) and running back Darrell Henderson (ribs) were limited. ...

According to the NFL's transactions list, the Cardinals waived cornerback Luq Barcoo on Thursday. ...

The Cardinals signed offensive lineman Zack Johnson to the practice squad. Johnson, undrafted out of North Dakota State in 2020, has spent time with the Packers.

Images from Wednesday's practice in Tempe.

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