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Offensive Line "Learning That Dance"

As newcomers Pugh, Smith try to fit in, Wilks confident unit is a strength


The new right side of the Cardinals' offensive line -- guard Justin Pugh (67) and tackle Andre Smith -- talk during Tuesday's OTA.

Learning curves are all relative for an offensive line that has experience at every spot, even for a group trying to understand a new coaching staff.

"We know what we have to do," new right guard Justin Pugh said. "We just have to figure out what we are going to call it. Get used to where we are stepping, making sure we are not stepping on each other's feet. Learning that dance."

It's May, and organized team activities just started Tuesday. There are helmets and offense-versus-defense, but there are no pads and, in reality, no real football for the players in the trenches. But – health assumed – there is optimism. The right side is new, with Pugh and right tackle Andre Smith. The left side is healthy, with tackle D.J. Humphries and

guard Mike Iupati. Center A.Q. Shipley remains the anchor.  

"Our strength right now is in our offensive line," coach Steve Wilks said. "I think we have good depth to push one another. And everything we do starts up front."

The offensive storylines will continue to be rookie quarterback Josh Rosen, or new quarterback Sam Bradford, or how rookie Christian Kirk fits as the No. 2 receiver or the return of star running back David Johnson, whom Wilks raved about Tuesday.

There better be some blocking, however. Otherwise, the rest doesn't matter.

The change in offense, from what former coach Bruce Arians liked to run (lots of deep shots off seven-step drops) to new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy (more of a quick game a lot of the NFL likes to use) will help a lot on that regard. If the quarterback doesn't have the ball long, it's much harder to hit him.

Smith, entering his 10th season, sees a change in defense. Once, the right tackle didn't have to worry much about any kind of dynamic pass rusher on his side. The left tackle handled that guy. These days, there are plenty of excellent pass rushers coming from an offense's right, or even inside – the Rams, for instance, with Aaron Donald and now, Ndamukong Suh.

Humphries is taking advantage, "soaking it up" from all the knowledge the rest of the more experienced line has collected over the years. "We're laying a foundation," Smith said, which is really all that can happen right now.

"You can't come off and hit people, fit double teams or things of that nature," Pugh said. "But it's good to get down and mentally start trusting those guys next to you. That's what we are doing right now. Building that trust, and when we put the pads on, we don't miss a beat and it kind of goes from there."

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