In addition to the real important things such as fine-tuning their blocking techniques, improving their footwork and memorizing the playbook, Cardinals rookie offensive linemen Mason Cole and Korey Cunningham have other assignments that have been keeping them busy in training camp.
They just didn’t know one of their duties would be unofficially acting as buyers and drivers for Uber Eats and not getting paid a dime for it.
Though Cole and Cunningham are viewed as future fixtures of Arizona’s offensive line after being selected in this year’s draft as third- and seventh-round picks, respectively, they’re still rookies, and rookies get the unfriendly task of having to shop for snacks for the team’s veteran linemen. It’s pretty much a daily chore.
“I know A.Q. likes chocolate-covered Acai’ berries from Costco,” said Cole, a four-year starter at the University of Michigan, of Cardinals starting center A.Q. Shipley.
“D.J. likes dark chocolate almond clusters from Sprouts,” said Cunningham, who ended his college career by starting 24 straight games at left tackle for the University of Cincinnati, of Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries.
“Pugh likes a lot of pretzels, candies and sunflower seeds,” Cole said of starting right guard Justin Pugh.
“And now we’ve got powdered donuts,” Cunningham chimed in. “Those things seem to be going like crazy lately. We bought those just because everybody seems to like them.”
Hey, at least the two newbies aren’t being asked to go buy filet mignons and lobster tails on a daily basis.
“Not yet,” Cunningham said, smiling. “I wouldn’t speak too soon, though.”
Cole and Cunningham might be part-time gofers in their spare time, but they’re being groomed as real-time replacements up front should anything disastrous happen to any one of the starting five.
Cole, who has started 104 consecutive games since high school, is the primary backup center to Shipley and is also getting practice time at both guard spots. Cunningham, a converted tight end and former basketball standout, is providing depth at both left tackle and right tackle. It’s not only their individual talent, but their versatility that make both rookies so intriguing.
“Basically, it shows your value,” Cunningham said. “If something happens, you’ve got to be able to go in and be able to produce.”
“I think the biggest thing is with only 53 guys on the roster, you’ve got to be able to play multiple positions,” Cole added. “You never know what’s going to happen.”
Of all the Cardinals’ position groups, it’s the offensive line that has the most to lose and the most to gain in 2018. It’s a rebuilt unit in charge of not only keeping oft-injured quarterback Sam Bradford upright, but buying Bradford enough time to let ageless wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald make plays and opening holes for star running back David Johnson.
Bob McManaman and Katherine Fitzgerald report from training camp Aug. 2, 2018.
If the O-line falters, it’s difficult to believe Arizona will improve on its rankings from a year ago, when the offense finished 22nd overall (314.1 yards per game) and 25th in scoring (18.4 points per game). If Cole and/or Cunningham are pressed into starting duty, the implications and the stakes go even higher.
“I like ’em. I really do. They’re good rookies,” Humphries said of Cole and Cunningham. “They listen and they take coaching. They take coaching from the players, too. What I get, Korey gets. I’m getting it from (line) Coach (Ray) Brown and Korey’s right there in my hip pocket trying to figure out what’s going on. You can’t do nothing but appreciate that from a rookie.”
The starting five is a colorful bunch with a great sense of humor and a boatload of pride. Though they’re entrenched with their own jobs, they also know that part of their responsibility is getting young players such as Cole and Cunningham up to speed. Sometimes, that might include a little clowning around.
“I know Justin Pugh found a picture of me the other day with a bald head, and he edited it and made it like kind of funny and everything,” Cunningham said. “He put it in my locker. I took it down, but he’s definitely a prankster. He’s a clown, but those guys are great, though. They took us up under their wings from Day 1.”
Cole agreed, saying the veterans have helped them a lot more than they have punked them.
“The group’s been awesome so far,” he said. “… It’s a really fun group, a really good group of guys.”
Cole and Cunningham aren’t so bad, either. Cardinals coach Steve Wilks has referred to them as smart, tough, physical and agile with the perfect mindset for the trenches.
“We just have to stay in our rookies’ place, do what we’re supposed to do, shut up and all that stuff, and we’ll be fine, we’ll be good,” Cunningham said, adding, “You know, if we keep buying snacks.”
Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.