Cardinals rookie Mason Cole comments on the loss of veteran center A.Q. Shipley at training camp.
Rob Schumacher, azcentral sports
To survive the loss of center A.Q. Shipley for the season due to a torn ACL, the Cardinals are counting on a rare occurrence:
One of their drafted offensive lineman staying healthy and playing well early in his career.
Finding, developing and nurturing offensive linemen has never been a strength of the organization. That history is both ancient and recent.
In 30 years in Arizona, only three Cardinals offensive linemen (Luis Sharpe, Lomas Brown, Mike Iupati) have made the Pro Bowl. Sharpe was the only one of the three drafted by the Cardinals.
Nothing has changed in recent years.
From 2013 through 2017, General Manager Steve Keim drafted seven offensive linemen, including Jonathan Cooper and D.J. Humphries in the first round.
Cooper lasted just three years. Humphries, the current starting left tackle, didn’t play at all as a rookie and missed 14 games the past two years due to injuries. Only two of the other draft picks – Evan Boehm and Will Holden – remain with the team, and they are backups.
That history is of little consequence to new coach Steve Wilks, his offensive line coach, Ray Brown, or Mason Cole, the third-round pick out of Michigan who will replace Shipley.
The staff is new, the offensive system is different, and every player supposedly started with no asterisks or checkmarks next to his name.
So it was telling that Wilks liked Shipley from the time the coach began watching video of last season. He raved about Shipley in the spring and same much the same things about him late last week.
To many outside of the Cardinals’ organization, Shipley was a short-armed, low-rated, journeyman center whose replacement was always one transaction away. Last year, Shipley was rated the 28th best center by Pro Football Focus.
To those within the walls of team headquarters, however, Shipley’s value was immense.
They lauded his toughness, intelligence and durability. They admired the stubbornness and self confidence it took to bounce between teams for five years. They respected that his first regular starting job came at age 30.
Right guard Justin Pugh came to the Cardinals from the Giants via free agency in the off-season. He didn’t watch the Cardinals much and didn’t know Shipley.
That changed quickly.
“You get into this building and you realize who runs things and who does things the right way,” Pugh said. “Everyone looks at these rating sites that don’t know the man, don’t know the responsibilities he has, don’t know the player he is and gets everyone on the right page. A center is a vital role in this offense.”
azcentral Sports’ Kent Somers and Bob McManaman discuss the loss of A.Q. Shipley, who suffered a season ending injury at practice Saturday.
Rob Schumacher, azcentral sports
Shipley was the only Cardinals offensive linemen to start every game the past two years and was going to be the information conduit that identified defensive fronts and helped adjust pass protections to keep quarterback Sam Bradford healthy.
Shipley is close to Bradford’s predecessor, Carson Palmer, and he was developing a tight working relationship with Bradford.
That job is now Cole’s. His college resume is impressive, and at 6-feet-5, he’s four inches taller than Shipley. Eventually, Cole should be better than Shipley, provided the Cardinals’ evaluation is correct.
But in August of 2018, there is large gap between Cole and Shipley. The ideal scenario would have been for Cole to learn behind Shipley, who is in the last year of his contract, and then take over in 2019.
A year ago, Shipley was the one constant on the offensive line. Humphries missed 11 games because of injury. Iupati missed 15. Boehm was benched because of poor performance and right tackle Jared Veldheer was inconsistent and then injured.
Shipley might have short arms, but his right one snapped the ball more than anyone else in the NFL the past two seasons.
On Monday, coaches described Shipley as the heartbeat of the offensive line but reminded players that every NFL team suffers injuries, and that the good teams overcome them.
To do that, however, the Cardinals will need Cole to be the player they expected him to be, earlier than they expected.
History is not on his side.