Cardinals starting linemen: RT Jared Veldheer (68), RG Evan Boehm (70), C A.Q. Shipley (53), LG Mike Iupati (76) and LT D.J. Humphries (74)
The offensive line was one of the Cardinals' biggest deficiencies in 2016. Quarterback Carson Palmer was sacked 40 times – the second-most in his career – and faced regular pressure, which resulted in a down year for the passing game.
The offseason, though, did not bring wholesale changes. On the contrary, all five of the projected starters were on the roster last season.
"They didn't do much searching because everybody here just needed to be healthy," left tackle D.J. Humphries said. "I feel like now that we're all healthy, it's going to be fun to watch."
It's doubtful any team in the NFL could have weathered the amount of injuries that piled up on the Cardinals' line a season ago. Right guard Evan Mathis suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5, left tackle Jared Veldheer was lost for the season with a triceps injury after Week 8, Humphries missed the final three games with a concussion, and while left guard Mike Iupati only missed one game, he was banged up consistently and didn't play to his previous Pro Bowl level.
The Cardinals cycled in backups with little experience, trying to piece together protection with duct tape.
As the focus turns to 2017, much will be made of Palmer's age and David Johnson's burgeoning superstardom, but the fate of the Cardinals' offense may very well lie in the quintet at the line of scrimmage.
"Football starts from the front," Iupati said.
General Manager Steve Keim said he considered adding pieces during free agency, but chose to use his salary cap space allotment in other areas.
While the faces returning are familiar, there are some changes. Veldheer has moved to right tackle, flip-flopping with Humphries, who will take over left. Iupati has slimmed down to 327 pounds, something the organization felt he needed to do to be more effective.
Center A.Q. Shipley – "who had a tremendous year, I thought," Keim said -- was re-signed to a two-year deal in the offseason, while former fourth-round pick Evan Boehm was elevated to the starting lineup at right guard after Mathis retired.
"When you draft guys like Evan Boehm and (fellow second-year lineman) Cole Toner, you want to see them develop," Keim said. "Because they don't have instant success any more in Year 1, we all know that's a tough position to play, not only from a physical standpoint but a mental standpoint. Toward the end of the season, the success that Boehm had when he got an opportunity to play gave us reason to think that not only would he be able to compete for a starting position, but he would continue to grow and have some success."
The Cardinals are wishing for better injury luck this season. Multiple returning reserves got valuable experience last season and the team drafted guard Dorian Johnson and tackle Will Holden, but the best-case scenario would be to keep them all on the sidelines.
Not only does a healthy group allow for the five most talented people to play, but it keeps the continuity. Palmer can feel the chemistry building, and appreciates that participating in the Hall of Fame game has given his line several extra practices to mesh.
"The longer you play next to somebody, the more comfortable you are with their strengths, their weaknesses," Palmer said. "I think it's going to be a big benefit for us."
Coach Bruce Arians is well aware of the extenuating circumstances of last year's troubles, and does not seem concerned with the line. Humphries is a former first-round pick who is coming into his own, while Iupati and Veldheer is a pair of accomplished veterans who should have enough tread left on the tires.
Shipley played well in his first full-time gig as a starter in 2016, while Boehm has done enough to be the clearly-stated starter at right guard when most expected an open competition.
"I feel very solid about them, as long as we stay healthy and bring the young ones along," Arians said.
Much was made of Palmer's regression from 2015 to 2016, but there was a noticeable correlation between his performance and the amount of pressure he faced. For the offense to find success in 2017, the line play must improve.
"We know what has to be done if we want to win," Humphries said. "He's got to be upright so he can get the ball to those guys. That's what we have to do. That's our part."
Images from the fourth day of Cardinals training camp