Cardinals third-round pick Mason Cole meets with the media on Thursday.
Everything about Mason Cole screams old school.
His college career came at a storied program (Michigan) for a throwback coach (Jim Harbaugh) with a traditional offensive scheme (pro-style). He never balked when asked to change positions, transitioning from left tackle to center and back to left tackle with chameleon-esque aplomb.
The Cardinals’ third-round pick made history upon his college arrival, becoming the first true freshman at Michigan to start the season opener on the offensive line. He finished with 51 starts in 51 games, only camping out on the sidelines when the Michigan offense was killing clock at the tail-end of blowouts.
“Never for a bad reason,” Cole said.
Cole played in every one of his high school games, too, making the varsity as a freshman. His consecutive games streak sits at 104, but it’s in peril now. He enters the NFL at a position that been affected by new-school tendencies. The proliferation of simplified offenses in college has made the professional transition a tough one for linemen.
The Cardinals have drafted five offensive linemen in the past three years, but only D.J. Humphries has become a starter, and even he sat his entire rookie season despite being a first-round pick. Cole is making no grand proclamations – “It’s Day One here, so I haven’t even met half the guys yet,” he said the afternoon the rookies arrived – but wants to buck the trend.
“My biggest goal is to come out here and prove to those guys that I can make an impact on this team and help this team win,” said Cole, who began rookie minicamp playing center and snapping to first-round pick Josh Rosen.
The Cardinals have three veterans – Mike Iupati, Justin Pugh and A.Q. Shipley – projected to start on the interior of the offensive line, and it’s easier to envision Cole, who can play guard or center, sliding into the starting lineup next season. But that was also the thought when he arrived at Michigan, and he went out and won the left tackle job.
Cole never vacated the starting lineup, although there was one time the streak was jeopardized. He missed three straight practices in advance of a game against Michigan State in October of his junior season. The reason was illness, not injury, which discomfited Cole.
“You don’t want to miss a game ever,” Cole said. “And if I was going to miss a game because I was sick, that would have hurt.”
He begged the doctors and trainers to clear him, and finally he got the go ahead to play. Michigan won, 32-23, to improve to 8-0. Those were the only three practices Cole missed in college. He was a rock for Harbaugh, a former NFL player and coach with whom Cole forged a close relationship.
“You do see a lot of those quirky things that he does in interviews, but he’s a really good coach,” Cole said. “He would do absolutely anything for any of his players. I think that’s something that kind of gets lost in the media. They don’t report that part. They report his quirkiness – which is also there. But he does do a lot for his players.”
Harbaugh brought a professional feel to Michigan, something validated when previous draft picks told Cole how prepared they were for the NFL after their time in Ann Arbor. It’s never a given for a lineman to succeed these days, but Cole seems to have the background, and the personality, to make it work.
“Hard-nosed, gritty guy,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said. “I know what I’ve seen on film, that he has that makeup. That’s the reason we wanted him here and that’s the reason we drafted him. I’m excited about him.”