Cardinals offensive line coach Ray Brown (left) and left tackle D.J. Humphries share a laugh during practice on Wednesday.
As the assistant offensive line coach, Ray Brown was not among the top decision-makers when the Panthers prepared for the 2015 draft. But as luck would have it, the team's braintrust was seriously considering a player at his position for their first-round pick.
So Brown did his due diligence on Florida left tackle D.J. Humphries, a raw-but-talented player who was projected to go near Carolina's No. 25 overall selection.
Humphries grew up in Charlotte, and after a visit with the Panthers one day, Brown gave him a ride home. It was there, while having a conversation with Humphries and his father, D.J. Humphries, Sr., that Brown felt a connection blossom.
"I stayed out there another hour, hour-and-a-half, and we were just talking." Brown said. "Talking about life. … I was like, 'Man, I want this kid on my team. I like him. I really like him.' I was real biased. I liked the kid, and he was a good football player."
It got better. The Panthers' front office held Humphries in similar esteem, and on draft night, they were ready to add him to the fold. With only one more team remaining on the clock ahead of them, it looked like a formality.
"We were going to pick him," Brown said. "He was our guy in Carolina. … The consensus in the draft room was, 'OK, this is our guy. This is who we're going to get.' And then, boom, (the Cardinals) jump up and get him."
At No. 24 overall, the Cardinals, in need of a left tackle for the future, selected Humphries. The Panthers pivoted and grabbed linebacker Shaq Thompson with their selection. It was a gut punch for Brown, who, at the time, wasn't sure if he'd ever get the chance for a reunion.
But then, three years later, Steve Wilks came calling.
Wilks was the defensive coordinator for the Panthers last season and was named Cardinals coach in January. He brought over several coaches from Carolina, including Brown to head up the offensive line. Humphries heard about Brown's rumored arrival as the staff was being assembled, but didn't want to get his hopes up.
"I was like, 'Somebody's kidding,'" Humphries said. "It hadn't been set in stone yet, and I didn't want to be excited until I saw the Cardinals tweet it out or something like that. Then I was charged up."
Humphries and Brown are birds of a feather, gregarious by nature but focused on success. Brown played an astounding two decades in the NFL, remaining in the league until the age of 43, and Humphries has wasted no time tapping into the knowledge base.
"When I'm able to ask a guy, 'How would you have done that?' And he can give me an exact replica of how he would have done it," Humphries said. "He did it for 20 damn years, so that's exciting. I'm hyped to be around him."
Humphries has teased with his talent early in his career and is aiming to take the next step forward in his fourth year. He's taking it slow in the offseason as he recovers from a major knee injury but has said multiple times he will be ready for the opener.
Brown is eager to unfurl the potential.
"It's unlimited," Brown said. "Sometimes you say 'potential' and it can be one of those things that can be a curse, but he's right there on the cusp of being a good football player. One thing we've got to realize is he hasn't played a lot of football. We've got a great, raw offensive lineman athlete that we've got to shape into being a player. And he really wants it bad."
After the near-miss in 2015, Humphries will make his push with Brown dropping wisdom by his side.
"I was like, 'Dude, I'm attached to you and you're attached to me,'" Brown said. "We've got to get this done. I want to see him be successful, and he wants to be successful. He wants to work with me and I want to work with him. Dude, we've got to get this done."
Images from Wednesday's practice