NFL Nation: Bobby Massie

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sunday wasn’t the true barometer of how Carson Palmer's shoulder was feeling.

That came when Palmer woke up Monday morning, after the pain subsided and Palmer had a chance to sleep on it. But according to Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the axillary nerve in Palmer’s right throwing shoulder did not regress after Sunday’s 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins.

“I was concerned until I saw him today,” Arians said. “And then now he feels great, so we should just get better and better and just get stronger.”

Arians said his 34-year-old starting quarterback will hopefully be doing everything in practice this week. Also from the coach:
  • There’s a chance defensive end Calais Campbell can return from his MCL injury but Arians said it’s “very slim.”
  • Right tackle Bobby Massie played “by far his best game.”
  • Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker left the game after re-injuring his left calf. On Monday, Arians compared the injury to Andre Ellington’s foot. “It’s going to be there all year and [he’ll have to] play through it and gut it out,” Arians said. “It was a great performance by him coming back out and giving his presence because he’s a great leader.”
  • Arians said Palmer’s 44 pass attempts was the “norm.” “When we have it that many times and they stack the box like that to stop the run, then we’re going to throw the football. When he says he’s OK, we’re going to go with it.”
  • Arians said he feels the reason defensive backs Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson have been playing at such a high level is because of their brains: “Two very, very smart players,” Arians said.
  • The Cardinals had 40 mental errors -- 20 offensively and 20 defensively.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- On one side of the Denver Broncos' defensive line is a 6-foot-4 seven-time Pro Bowler.

On the other is a 6-foot-3 bespectacled athlete.

Together, Broncos defensive ends DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller will keep the Arizona Cardinals' tackles, Bobby Massie and Jared Veldheer, busy Sunday afternoon.

“They kinda can do it all,” said Massie, who’ll spend most of the game matched up against Miller. “I mean, they’re fast, good hands, they can get around the edge, they can come back inside. They’re two good players.”

Ware, who signed with Denver as a free agent this offseason, and Miller have combined for 4.5 sacks through three games. Arizona has given up six sacks this season -- Massie has given up just one, per Pro Football Focus. To keep starting quarterback Drew Stanton upright -- and healthy -- Massie and Veldheer will have to trust the other three offensive linemen as much as themselves.

Both the Broncos’ ends are quick enough to flush the pocket to one side or the other. If one side of Arizona’s offensive line isn’t prepared and playing with sound technique, Stanton will end up square in the hands of Ware or Miller, Veldheer said.

“You really have to be stout on both edges,” he added.

Arizona hasn’t played the Broncos since 2002, but Veldheer, who signed as a free agent this offseason, played them seven times with the Oakland Raiders. He’s seen enough of Miller to know what to expect.

But it’s Ware that had Veldheer talking this week.

“The thing is, they’re very similar,” Veldheer said. “I think the biggest difference is just experience, is DeMarcus having more years in the NFL.

“You can see that from playing the Broncos in the past from now DeMarcus being there this year, it almost looks like he’s helped out some of those outside guys. He’s one of those crafty guys with lot of moves in his repertoire. Having a guy like that in the locker room just makes that whole position group better because he’s got so much knowledge.”

Ware’s reputation precedes him, but Massie, who’s in his third season, said it’s Ware's burst off the line of scrimmage, his good hands and his ability to redirect that make him tough.

But to Massie, Miller looks more athletic.

“He’s probably one of the most athletic guys we’ll see on the edges ... I’ll see,” Massie said. “He’s kinda like Bruce Irvin from Seattle. Speed. Agility. He can dip around the corner real good, (has a) spin move and everything.”

Adding Ware this offseason gave Denver a speed element to its pass rush. To maximize Ware and Miller, the Broncos have their two inside linemen flush quarterbacks to either edge, Cardinals offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said, which allows their defensive ends to work toward the quarterback from the outside in.

To combat the inside rush, Arizona’s interior offensive linemen will have to work overtime while Massie and Veldheer push Miller and Ware upfield.

“You can’t become complacent within the rush at all,” Veldheer said. “You can’t ever think, ‘I got them to the top of the rush, I can run them by’ type of thing.

“If you start thinking that, then you’re trying to run by and all of a sudden, if there is anything up the middle then you’re running them right into the quarterback. So you really got to think, stop the rush, stay in front and fight them until you see everyone take off to cover the ball because it’s been thrown.”

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 1

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Arizona’s first day of training camp provided a few highlight-worthy moments for fans but it finished without any major newsworthy events. The practice appeared to be injury free but we’ll know more Sunday morning when Cardinals coach Bruce Arians addresses the media. Watching camp this year will be like watching a Pro Bowl practices with the likes of cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Patrick Peterson matching up against receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Throughout Saturday, Cromartie showed no signs of a hip flexor injury, running stride for stride with Fitzgerald and denying the eight-time Pro Bowler a few catches. Saturday still featured its share of Fitzgerald catches.
  • During the first two days of media availability, offensive players have raved about how they feel “light years” ahead of last year. It showed throughout practice. Routes were clean and crisp, and quarterback Carson Palmer was hitting receivers in stride. On a few occasions, he gave individual direction before snapping the ball. There were also minimal interruptions by Arians and other coaches, a sign that the offense was executing at a higher level.
  • When safety Tyrann Mathieu emerged from the bowels of University of Phoenix Stadium, where he was going through a rehab workout, and walked onto the field about an hour into practice, the crowd gave its bigger cheer of the afternoon. The Honey Badger acknowledged it with a wave.
  • Right tackle Bobby Massie and right guard Paul Fanaika spent the entire practice working with the first team. Sunday will tell if Arians plans on rotating in Bradley Sowell at tackle and Earl Watford at guard, giving them both reps with the starters. Both lined up with the second team Saturday.
  • It was only Day 1 but some of the rookies looked like rookies in their first training camp practice. Logan Thomas began the day working ahead of Ryan Lindley as the second-string quarterback. Throughout the course of the day his accuracy declined, as some passes hit the ground short of the receiver toward the end of practice while others sailed high. The velocity on some of Thomas' passes at times was too much for some receivers to handle.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- With another summer in the books, it’s that time of the year again. Football is back. The Arizona Cardinals report to training camp Friday and will have their conditioning test in the early afternoon. Camp starts in earnest Saturday with the first of five straight practices.

And with the beginning of camp comes a plethora of questions. Here are my top 10, and No. 1 should be no surprise:

When will defensive back Tyrann Mathieu return?

It is looking less likely that Mathieu will return during any part of training camp. He was put on the preseason physically unable to perform list, which means he can do everything with the team except practice. And as soon as he is able to practice during training camp or preseason, he is allowed to come off the PUP list. If that occurs, it likely won’t be until the final weeks of August. Arizona doesn’t want to rush Mathieu back. Any setback with his LCL could lead to long-term issues. The Cardinals are not in a rush, even though I have heard his rehab is ahead of schedule.

Will the offense be able to pick up where it left off?

Like any new season, there will be an adjustment period so new and old players can get used to each other, but that shouldn’t last very long. The Cardinals can make major strides during camp if the offense doesn’t digress much from where it left off in the final nine games of the season. They seem to have added the missing pieces, so all signs point to them building quickly on the foundation set in 2013.

Who will win position battles at right tackle and right guard?

Each battle has essentially come down to a two-man race. At right tackle Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie will continue to duke it out. Will the time away have helped either? Only the next month can answer that. Next to them, second-year guard Earl Watford will be pushing starter Paul Fanaika. The coaching staff knows what Fanaika is capable of, so Watford needs to impress during camp to win the job. Then there is the possibility of someone not on the roster now starting Week 1.

Who will replace linebacker Daryl Washington?

At this point there is really one legitimate option -- a linebacker by committee, leading with Larry Foote -- unless head coach Bruce Arians has changed his opinion that Foote is not a three-down linebacker. During camp, Foote, Ernie Sims and Lorenzo Alexander will be given an opportunity to earn the job, but rookies Glenn Carson and Jonathan Brown would have to really impress to find the field. As with right guard, there is the possibility of someone not on the roster now starting Week 1.

Can place-kicker Jay Feely keep his job?

Yes and No. Feely knows Arians isn’t afraid to try someone else out for the job. Arians loves competition, which is why he brought in two other kickers to push Feely. Danny Hrapmann is a journeyman, but rookie Chandler Catanzaro might have what it takes to outkick Feely. I wouldn’t be surprise if Catanzaro wins the job.

Can running back Andre Ellington carry a full load?

Ask anyone who knows Ellington and the answer is yes. But in order for Ellington to succeed in that role as Arizona’s feature back, he needs to stay healthy. Arians said during the offseason that he wants Ellington to get 25-30 touches per game. A little ambitious, but we’ll see how he is used during camp.

How healthy are the injured players?

The list is long, but the first few days of camp will be telling. A lot of eyes will be on left guard Jonathan Cooper (leg) and left tackle Jared Veldheer (tricep). Cooper missed all of his rookie season with a broken leg, and Veldheer returned from a tricep injury for the final five games. Three linebackers -- Sam Acho (leg), Alexander (foot) and Alex Okafor (biceps) -- will also be returning to practice, and each of them has something to prove after John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy filled in for them and flourished last season.

Are cornerback Antonio Cromartie's hip issues a thing of the past?

A hip flexor hampered Cromartie for the majority of 2012, but he claims he’s fine. In order for the Cardinals’ secondary to be as good as advertised, he needs to be as healthy as he says he is. A lot of attention will be paid to him in the first week of camp.

Can Carson Palmer cut down his interceptions?

Palmer tied for second-most interceptions in the NFL last season. Of his 22, 14 were in the first eight games when the Cardinals were figuring out Arians’ scheme. Logic would say the interceptions will go down, but Palmer has a penchant for underthrowing deep balls. With an improved knowledge of the offense and the lessons learned from last season, his interceptions should be reduced.

Will the defense regress without Karlos Dansby and Washington?

Arians came out this week and said it would not, but it will be tough for the defense not to regress at least a little. Not only is the veteran quarterback of the defense gone (Dansby), but so is its most athletic player (Washington). What they were able to do by covering sideline-to-sideline, helping plug the run and lining up in coverage might not be replaced by Kevin Minter and Foote, or whoever takes over for Washington. In place of the veteran Dansby setting up the defense, the inexperienced Minter will be charged with that role, at least for the time being.
Bruce AriansAP Photo/Ross D. FranklinArizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians will get a look at his full team Tuesday when OTAs begin.
This time last year, the buzz around the Cardinals was about a new coach with a new culture and a new scheme. This year, it’s about how do the Cardinals make the playoffs?

As the Cardinals’ offseason team activities (OTAs) begin Tuesday, there’s a lot to ponder from the past year and much to speculate on going forward. The next month will begin determining the fate for a lot of players on the current 90-man roster. As Cardinals coach Bruce Arians loved saying last year, this is when they have to put it on tape.

Here are 10 observations as the Cards begin OTAs:

  1. The top three running backs are established with Andre Ellington, Stepfan Taylor and Jonathan Dwyer sitting atop the depth chart, but after that is a major drop-off. As of now, there isn’t is a viable option for the fourth back, which was occupied by Alfonso Smith a season ago. He’s gone and so is Ryan Williams, leaving the fourth spot up for grabs. That running back, however, may not be on the field Tuesday.
  2. There’ll be a lot of eyes on the newcomers this offseason, such as quarterback Logan Thomas, cornerback Antonio Cromartie, safety Deone Bucannon and left tackle Jared Veldheer. But the most intriguing position battle of the offseason starts Tuesday with two returning offensive linemen at right tackle. Arizona hasn’t re-signed Eric Winston for a reason: It wants to see what Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie can do. The two were college teammates at Ole Miss but neither are the clear-cut choices to assume the starting job. There have been questions about Massie’s ability to pick up the playbook for the last few seasons and Sowell was able to hold his own at left tackle last season but there’s a reason Arians didn’t keep him there. It’s yet to be seen if he’ll fare better on the right side.
  3. Losing Karlos Dansby was a major blow to the Cardinals’ inside linebackers but it could get worse. Having Daryl Washington practice with the first team may be for naught if he’s suspended for a significant amount of time by the league for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The Cardinals are already in tryout mode with second-year linebacker Kevin Minter but if Washington is lost for more than a game, what was a strong point of the Cards’ defense will be its liability. Veteran Larry Foote may need the reps this offseason to get ready for a larger role next year but this is also a chance for an unknown inside backer to get noticed.
  4. It’s one thing for Cromartie to say his hip is better but it’s another for him to go out and show it. He’ll have the eyes of the media – although it’s not quite like New York – on him this offseason. If Cromartie’s hip isn’t an issue, he’ll be half of one of the league’s top cornerback tandems. If his right hip flexor is still hampering him during OTAs, he’ll be wise to just sit and let a young cornerback earn some time. But next up on the depth chart is the man Cromartie replaced, Jerraud Powers, who is likely itching to win back his spot.
  5. The top three wide receivers are a shoe-in. Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn will have jobs in 2014. It’s the other eight receivers on the roster who’ll be fighting for their jobs starting Tuesday. Arians clearly likes small, speedy receives -- he drafted two -- but now he has an abundance of them on the roster and will start weeding through them this week. One or two will make the cut but the rest will left fighting for the final few spots on the roster as a gunner or a special-teams machine.
  6. What a difference a year makes. Last May, the Cardinals were as confused as ever when it came to learning Arians’ offense. This year they know the wrinkles and intricacies of his complex offense. The days of Fitzgerald and Floyd lining up in the wrong places are over. The next step can be taken, which could mean a quicker start for the Cardinals than a year ago. And the result of that could then a game or two in January.
  7. Throughout the smokescreens before and during the draft, there was one truth that rose above it all: Arizona wasn’t drafting a quarterback unless he could win a spot on the roster. After the Cardinals picked Logan Thomas, Arians made it clear the first two quarterback spots are taken. That means Ryan Lindley’s third-string job is up for grabs. He’s been lending a helping hand to Thomas but when practice gets going Tuesday, he’ll need to turn it up to show Arians that he made a mistake. That may be harder than anticipated because Logan was drafted to not get cut.
  8. One of the few players with the most to lose and the most to gain during OTAs is tight end Rob Housler. He fell short of expectations last season and never grew into the player Arians had envisioned him being. It doesn’t help Housler, cut from the receiving tight end mold, that he isn’t fond of blocking. The Cardinals went out during the offseason and added two tight ends who are tailor made to fit Arians’ two-tight end scheme. Add in Jake Ballard, who joined the team around midseason last year, and Arizona has a three-tight end rotation that could see Housler as the odd man out.
  9. Tuesday will be the first day that left guard Jonathan Cooper can take the field for since he broke his leg against San Diego in the Cardinals’ third preseason game. How much Cooper can do starting this week will be an indication of how far along in his rehab he is. If he’s practicing in full, training camp will be a sure thing. If not, then training camp may be the first time Cooper will work out at full capacity.
  10. Another offensive lineman the Cardinals are anxious to see on the field is guard Earl Watford. The second-year player feels he has a better grasp of the playbook and the offense in his second offseason. He’ll be given a chance to win the starting job over last year’s starting guard Paul Fanaika. If he does, the job may be Watford’s for the foreseeable future.
Arizona addressed its most pressing needs in free agency, giving the Cardinals the rest of the offseason, including May’s NFL draft, to fill the rest of the areas that require attention.

First on that list is a tie between safety and right tackle. The Cardinals will also focus on tight end, defensive line and linebackers -- both inside and outside.

Scout Inc.’s Steve Muench pegged Arizona’s needs during his prediction of the team’s first three picks.

While Muench believes Arizona will draft Washington State strong safety Deone Bucannon, he qualified the pick with the idea that Arizona may take a tackle at 20th in the first round, and if the Cards do, he believes it’ll be either Notre Dame’s Zack Martin or Virginia’s Morgan Moses. I tend to agree more with the idea that Arizona will take a tackle in the first round. The right side is up for grabs since the Cardinals haven’t re-signed last year’s starter, Eric Winston. Muench offered the idea that Arizona will start Bobby Massie at right tackle, where he started all 16 games during his rookie season in 2012. The Cardinals weren’t sold on Massie during training camp last season because of a slew of mental errors and an inability to fully grasp the playbook. Unless that’s changed, don’t expect the Cardinals to call Massie’s number, instead opting to draft Martin or Moses.

While a safety is a necessity at this point, a right tackle carries a higher value in the first round.

As we saw last season, however, general manager Steve Keim isn’t shy about using his draft picks to leverage position. If a safety like Bucannon is available for the Cardinals late in the first or early in the second rounds, don’t be surprised if Keim maneuvers a trade to land him. Bucannon fits the size requirements to defend the big, tall tight ends around the NFC West, and even if he’s not as talented as the Cardinals would hope, their secondary around him will be talented enough to mask any deficiencies.

In the second round, Muench predicted Arizona choosing Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas.

At 6-foot-6, Niklas fits the blueprint head coach Bruce Arians likes out of his tight ends and Niklas will be a good fit for Arizona behind Rob Housler, Jake Ballard and John Carlson – if he’s around. At that size and with that talent, I wouldn’t expect Niklas to be sitting around late in the second round but if he is, I like this pick for the Cardinals.

In the third round, Muench has Louisville outside linebacker Marcus Smith going to the Cardinals. While Arizona will need to stock up on outside linebackers with John Abraham in the twilight of his career and Sam Acho in the last year of his rookie deal, if Smith is the best player available at this spot, Keim will grab him without thinking. However, if there’s a defensive tackle who’s the best player available, look for the Cardinals to start looking for Darnell Dockett’s replacement.

In defensive coordinator Todd Bowles’ scheme, outside linebackers are crucial since they provide the edge rush that forces quarterbacks to step up right into the hands of Dan Williams, Calais Campbell and Dockett. And Smith fits that need.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals right tackle Bobby Massie's progress this season came through in Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons.

After a training camp riddled with more than 40 mental errors, Massie saw his first playing time of the season and notched just one mental error.

"Which really, he should never make," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "It's a generic protection call. But luckily his guy didn't come so it wasn't a sack. Those are the things that plagued him in training camp. Talent's not his issue. It's making sure he's got on the right guy."

He was active for the first time this season against Seattle and didn't play, but heading into the longer week, Massie found out he was going to see the field Sunday against the Falcons. But for how many plays and for how long? That was only something the coaching staff could answer.

Massie was given a series in the first half and played well enough to stay on the field for 21 plays throughout the Cardinals' 27-13 win. It was obvious he's improved mentally from training camp and that stuck with Arians.

The second-year product out of Mississippi said conditioning wasn't an issue. He went home tired and feeling good about what he left on the field.

"I showed I can play," Massie said. "That's what I think I showed. It was a big thing because I had a lot of mental errors in camp and I showed that I just eliminated that."

Massie felt he played well enough to earn more snaps.

"I think I did but it's not up to me," he said. "It's up to the man upstairs."

That's Arians, not the other man upstairs. Between Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin, they'll decide how many reps he'll see during the final eight weeks of the season. With starter Eric Winston on a one-year contract, Massie could be the future of at right tackle.

He was thrown into the fire last season, starting all 16 games as a rookie. His second half of 2012 was a 180-degree difference from the first half. In the first eight games last season, he allowed 13 sacks compared to none in the final eight.

This season, Arians and Goodwin are bringing him along slower and the improvements are already evident.

"The biggest thing I told Bobby is you just got to cut [the mental errors] down," Goodwin said. "Because obviously, you put a guy on the field like that you gotta trust him and he's starting to build that trust back in me. He did a good job last week."
This much we knew about the Arizona Cardinals' running game heading into Sunday’s season opener at St. Louis: Rashard Mendenhall is the starter.

After that? It was anybody’s guess.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians helped sort out the four-man “committee” waiting on the sideline by announcing that in most situations, Alfonso Smith will “probably be our next guy.”

That’s as much a testament to Arians’ faith in the oft-injured Ryan Williams as it is to Smith’s perseverance. He’s been cut three times in four years, during which time he bounced between the Cardinals’ 53-man roster and the practice squad. At the start of minicamp and OTAs, Smith wasn’t expected to make it through final cuts. But he impressed during training camp and developed a reputation as a punishing pass-blocker.

“There were a lot of linebackers and DBs that quit rushing him in training camp when we had pads on,” Arians said. “There were serious blows. He brings it and that’s what I like about him.”

That leaves rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor, and Williams, awaiting their call. Ellington and Taylor have roles on special teams, but how many running backs Arians dresses on Sunday will be telling.

“It’s a blessing, man, just to be able to be on the active roster starting off and to get an opportunity to be the backup, so I’m going to be excited,” Smith said. “I’m going to be pumped up.”

In other news:
  • Arians said he will use three kick returners in St. Louis, although there are five or six possibilities.
  • The number of offensive linemen the Cardinals dress against the Rams will be a game-time decision, Arians said. He’s thrown around seven throughout training camp, but that could change with the injury to rookie guard Jonathan Cooper. If it’s seven, look for Nate Potter and Mike Gibson, in addition to the front five, because of their ability to combine to work at all five spots. If it’s eight, look for Bobby Massie to dress.
  • Arians said he thought Denver quarterback Peyton Manning’s seven-touchdown outing Thursday night against Baltimore was "outstanding." Arians, who was Manning's quarterbacks coach in Indianapolis in 1998-2000, said, "It was one of those ones that you dream about when you’re young, you know seven touchdowns in a game, especially against the Ravens, which is a great defensive football team. So that was really, really special."
One year ago, we considered the challenges Arizona Cardinals offensive tackles would face against a long list of accomplished pass-rushers.

It's hard not to think similar thoughts after watching left tackle Levi Brown struggle badly against the San Diego Chargers' Dwight Freeney during an exhibition game Saturday night. Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus counted three hurries and a sack for Freeney at Brown's expense. Brown also surrendered a pressure and a holding penalty while working against Larry English.

Brown did not play last season. Freeney has been a dominant rusher for years. That combination could have explained the degree to which Brown struggled. However, those familiar with Brown's career know he has struggled in pass protection at other times.

The 2013 schedule presents challenges early.

Brown will face Robert Quinn, Greg Hardy and Aldon Smith early in the season if he remains in the starting lineup at left tackle. Those players combined for 41 sacks last season. Another veteran pass-rusher, Will Smith of New Orleans, was also on the Cardinals' schedule for 2013. However, he reportedly suffered a season-ending knee injury over the weekend.

The Cardinals have better depth at offensive tackle this season with Brown healthy and Eric Winston joining the team. Those two are the starters at present. Nate Potter (left side) and Bobby Massie (right) played extensively as rookie tackles in 2012. Both improved as the season progressed. Arizona allowed a league-high 58 sacks last season, but that included 39 in the first eight games.

New quarterback Carson Palmer ranked tied for ninth in sack rate over the past two seasons while playing for the Oakland Raiders, an indication he can help the Cardinals' tackles by getting the ball out before pressure arrives. The Cardinals allowed sacks at a league-worst 8.6 percent rate, well above the 6.0 percent average.

The line remains in some flux. Coach Bruce Arians told reporters Monday the team planned to move Daryn Colledge from right guard back to left guard, where he played last season, now that a broken leg has sidelined talented rookie left guard Jonathan Cooper. Paul Fanaika is the leading candidate to replace Colledge at right guard. There are no plans at present to play Massie at guard, Arians told reporters.
Rookie guard Jonathan Cooper's athleticism was on display Saturday night when the first-round draft choice pulled around the Arizona Cardinals' formation to deliver a block downfield with about 10 minutes remaining in the third quarter of an exhibition game against San Diego.

Unfortunately for Cooper, his quickness on this play would cost him. He was nine yards downfield and even with running back Alfonso Smith when Frank Beltre, an undrafted rookie free agent linebacker for the Chargers, tackled Smith and rolled onto Cooper's left foot.

Cooper's foot caught in the grass just long enough for it to roll inside-out in one quick, damaging movement. Cooper suffered a broken left leg, coach Bruce Arians told reporters after the game. He might miss the 2013 regular season, although Arians was not sure that would be the case.

The Cardinals drafted Cooper seventh overall to lead their offensive line for years to come. They had exceedingly high expectations for Cooper on draft day. They raised those expectations after seeing Cooper practice with the team. Now, they might have to wait a year before Cooper begins to make the desired impact. It's a brutal blow for Arizona.

"He has a unique skill set, maybe one of the more athletic offensive linemen I've [scouted] in the 15 years I've been in the business," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said on draft day. "He has tremendous feet, bend, athleticism, space skills, and the ability to pull and play on the perimeter."

The Cardinals had neglected their line for years, at great cost to their quarterbacks, running backs and to the organization overall. Cooper was the first offensive lineman the team had drafted in the first three rounds since 2007, when Arizona selected Levi Brown fifth overall. Tennessee was the only other team to similarly neglect its line in the draft over that five-year span.

Arizona has a couple options with Cooper if the team determines he might be able to return this season. The team could leave Cooper on its active roster, or the team could place him on injured reserve with a designation for return. Teams can use the IR-DFR designation for one player each season. That player can return to practice six weeks after being placed on the IR-DFR list. The player is eligible to play in a game two weeks after that.

The Cardinals do have better depth on their line this season. Current right guard Daryn Colledge played left guard before Cooper's arrival. Bobby Massie, who played right tackle before the team signed Eric Winston, could project to guard. Paul Fanaika is another option.

But as the Cardinals prepared for a 2013 season within a rugged NFC West, they envisioned Cooper helping them meet the physical demands up front.

"Our division is so physical," Arians said on draft day, "and the thing that sets San Francisco, Seattle, and now St. Louis also, apart is their offensive and defensive lines of scrimmage are extremely good. We have to match that physicality on both sides of the ball."

That will be much tougher to do without Cooper. Arizona opens the regular season at St. Louis against a Rams team that tied for the NFL lead in sacks last season.

Cooper wasn't the only high-profile casualty for Arizona during its 24-7 defeat to the Chargers. Rob Housler, Dan Williams, Rashard Mendenhall, Andre Roberts, Matt Shaughnessy and D.C. Jefferson also suffered injuries of unknown severity.

This felt like a night with long-term negative repercussions for Arizona.

The San Francisco 49ers have all five starters returning along their offensive line. There's no drama at the position unless you're into swing tackles, left guard contracts or developing young depth at center.

The situation is different for the Arizona Cardinals, but coach Bruce Arians brought welcome clarity to the position following the team's opening camp practice Friday.

Newly signed veteran Eric Winston will battle incumbent Bobby Massie at right tackle. Nate Potter, who eventually served as Levi Brown's injury replacement at left tackle last season, will battle Brown for that job this summer. There had been some thought about Massie competing at right guard. That could happen down the line in an effort to get the best five linemen on the field, but for now, the tackle competitions are clearly defined.

We know rookie first-round pick Jonathan Cooper will play left guard once he reaches agreement on a contract. We know Lyle Sendlein will be the starting center for a sixth consecutive season. Another veteran, Daryn Colledge, appears likely to start at right guard, a switch from the left side.

Winston has started 16 games in each of the past six seasons, five with Houston and one with Kansas City. Massie improved dramatically as a rookie starter last season. He seemingly would be a young player for the Cardinals to develop -- on the field.

The team has options, which is the point. There weren't enough viable ones for the Cardinals one year ago. The team had veteran career backups such as D'Anthony Batiste, Rich Ohrnberger, Pat McQuistan and Jeremy Bridges mixed with rookies such as Potter and Massie. Losing Brown to injury devastated the line. This year, the Cardinals have four tackles they could feel OK with in the lineup.

The chart shows every offensive lineman to play for the Cardinals over the past five seasons, ordered by snap counts. Shading highlights players on the 90-man roster at present. Cooper, chosen eighth overall in the 2013 draft, and Winston are two prominent newcomers.
New Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has repeatedly praised the team's offensive line this offseason, defending it from criticism he considered outdated.

That doesn't mean the Cardinals are content at the position.

Tackle Eric Winston, who played 100 percent of the snaps for Kansas City last season and graded out positively as both a run and pass blocker in a Pro Football Focus review, was close to a contract agreement with Arizona on Wednesday, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported.

Winston had been a mainstay player along the Houston Texans' offensive line until the team released him last offseason in a move widely framed as salary-related. Winston, 29, has not missed a snap in four of his past five seasons.

Adding Winston would give the Cardinals additional options at a position where Bobby Massie showed promise as a rookie in 2012. The more options the Cardinals have, the tougher time we'll have projecting with accuracy the starting five for the regular season. That's a good thing until the team has established quality starters across the front.

I can't find any downside to adding Winston at a reasonable rate (and let's face it, players unsigned at this stage generally aren't going to sign for significant sums). Levi Brown is the only other veteran tackle on the Cardinals' roster.

Matt Williamson, who scouts the NFL for, has referred to Winston as a quality player best suited for teams using zone-blocking tactics. He called Winston best at zone blocking in the run game, but he did not consider Winston to be a liability in protection.

Arians has not, to my knowledge, committed to a single style of blocking, but I would expect the team to use more zone-blocking tactics. That will be something to investigate during training camp, particularly if Winston signs with the team.
Much thanks to @groomoo for delicately suggesting we take a more detailed look at the recently published average ages for projected NFL starters.

He wanted to see actual average ages, not just rankings. The information can be difficult to absorb across multiple columns, so we'll break out offenses and defenses separately. The chart shows average ages for projected offensive starters, subject to change during training camps and the preseason.

A few thoughts on the numbers for NFC West teams:
  • Arizona Cardinals: The Cardinals are the only team in the division with an older starting quarterback. Carson Palmer is the fourth-oldest projected starting quarterback behind Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Top quarterbacks endure. One question with Palmer is to what degree serious injuries have affected him. Arizona's projected starting offensive line comes in just under the league average for age, with guard Daryn Colledge the only starter in his 30s. Jonathan Cooper and Bobby Massie are not yet 24. At receiver, Larry Fitzgerald will be turning 30, but that's OK. He's in his prime. And with Michael Floyd in the lineup with him, Arizona comes in just under the NFL average for age at the position.
  • San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers had the NFL's youngest starting offense in Week 1 of the 2010 season at 25.27 years old on average. Six of the starters from that 2010 opener remain starters for the team. The list includes Michael Crabtree, Frank Gore, Joe Staley, Mike Iupati, Vernon Davis and Anthony Davis. The 49ers' offensive starters now rank ninth at 27.95 years old, with much of the increase attributed simply to the passage of time. The average will fall once the 49ers move on from Gore, Anquan Boldin and Jonathan Goodwin.
  • St. Louis Rams: Only the 49ers' 2010 offensive starters were younger than their Rams counterparts. Sam Bradford and Rodger Saffold are the only starters from that 2010 opener still in the lineup for St. Louis. The current Rams would have the NFL's youngest projected offensive starters by far if they didn't have the third-oldest starting offensive line. We should expect the Rams to draft and/or sign a younger starting offensive linemen next offseason. Most of the other young pieces are in place.
  • Seattle Seahawks: Michael Robinson's presence in the lineup at fullback gives Seattle the fourth-oldest starting running backs on average. It's a young man's game, especially at running back. But with quite a few teams going without fullbacks at all, the Seahawks' average at the position is inflated some. Still, the Seahawks drafted two running backs this year, one of them a potential fullback, with an eye toward the future. Robinson and potential starting guard Paul McQuistan, both 30, are the only projected starters older than 27. Top receiver Percy Harvin turns 25 this month. Quarterback Russell Wilson won't be 25 until Nov. 29.
The Arizona Cardinals' situation at guard changed when the team used the seventh and 116th choices in the 2013 NFL draft to address the position.

Adam Snyder's release from the team Monday was one immediate consequence.

The five-year, $17.5 million contract Snyder signed with the Cardinals last offseason invited skepticism at the time because Snyder had seemingly struggled while starting at right guard for San Francisco previously. The 49ers were eager to move on from Snyder and Chilo Rachal at right guard last offseason. The Cardinals signed Snyder, paid him a $5 million signing bonus and made him their starter.

The Cardinals still must account for $4 million in charges against their salary cap relating to the bonus money Snyder received. The team will save $2.9 million in base salary this season, but the cap charge for Snyder's contract could be the same in 2013 without Snyder as it would have been had he remained on the roster: $4 million. Update: The Cardinals are reportedly designating Snyder as a post-June 1 release, meaning they can defer some cap consequences until 2014.

Arizona has mismanaged its offensive line over the past five-plus seasons, in my view. Using the fifth overall choice of the 2007 draft for Levi Brown delivered to the team a long-term starter, but not one of the NFL's top tackles. The team failed to draft another offensive lineman in the first three rounds from 2008 until selecting Jonathan Cooper with the seventh overall choice this year.

The Cardinals' reliance on older backups with little room for improvement proved costly last season when D'Anthony Batiste was initially the replacement for an injured Brown at left tackle. Snyder also struggled.

A steady stream of overmatched quarterbacks has exacerbated the situation. Top quarterbacks help out their lines by getting rid of the ball quickly. Poor quarterbacks make bad lines look worse by holding the ball too long and inviting sacks or other negative plays, leading to unfavorable down-and-distance situations.

The team appears recommitted to improving its line. Selecting Cooper and fourth-round choice Earl Watford one year after drafting Bobby Massie and Nate Potter has given the team younger options.

Snyder would be best suited as a backup for all five positions on the line, in my view. I could see him landing in that capacity with a team such as San Diego. Former Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt is the Chargers' offensive coordinator. He was with Arizona when the team signed Snyder.

Three pass-rushers and three offensive tackles were off the board when the Arizona Cardinals went on the clock with the seventh overall choice in the 2013 NFL draft.

That left the Cardinals with their choice of offensive guards. They went with North Carolina's Jonathan Cooper over Alabama's Chance Warmack.

This move backs up pledges from general manager Steve Keim to sink resources into the offensive line. Arizona had a greater need at guard than tackle, so there was no sense taking the fourth-best tackle over the top-ranked guard. The question for some will be whether a guard is worthy of such a high selection in any year, but Keim has said he'll take a Pro Bowl-caliber guard that early if he can find one.

Scouting reports suggested Cooper was the better pass-protector, while Warmack was more of a run-blocker.

Arizona needed help at guard after overpaying Adam Snyder in free agency last offseason. Cooper will move into the starting lineup right away, I would expect.

The Cardinals can now move forward with Levi Brown and Bobby Massie as their tackles and Lyle Sendlein at center. Daryn Colledge is the incumbent left guard. Cooper could start at right guard, solidifying the line on paper, at least.

Arizona had not drafted an offensive lineman in the first three rounds since making Brown the fifth overall choice back in 2007.



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