During the offseason the Arizona Cardinals made it a point to beef up their offensive line. The injuries from last season saw just a single offensive lineman start all 16 games. That lineman was starting center A.Q. Shipley. The team needed to add pieces along the line and did so by signing free agents Andre Smith and Justin Pugh. The two were joining a lineup with promising left tackle D.J. Humphries, a healthy Mike Iupati, and a long underrated Shipley. That is until the veteran center limped off the practice field over the weekend.
Shipley has been a stable presence along the Cardinals offensive line during his three season. Signing as a free agent before the 2015 season, Shipley did not miss a single game during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. His injury to close out the first full week of training camp is putting the offensive line depth to the test. With news quickly spreading on Monday that Shipley is out for the season, the Cardinals look to their depth to make an impact. At the center position, this puts the spotlight on rookie Mason Cole.
Cole was drafted by Arizona in the third round of this year’s draft. The former Michigan Wolverine was a standout lineman during his time in college. Heading into the draft, many saw Cole as an athletic and intelligent lineman with the ability to play multiple positions along the line with starts at every spot during his college career. Cole was viewed as a solid prospect who would become a consistent starter in the NFL. Just a week into his first training camp and Cole is now the presumptive starter for the Cardinals.
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Starting as a rookie center isn’t unheard of in the NFL. However, those rookies were typically drafted with the expectation of being inserted as the immediate starter. The idea was for Cole to learn the NFL game behind Shipley and to serve as the backup. The year would allow the rookie to get some occasional playing time but also grow physically as a professional. One of the biggest marks against Cole coming out of college was his need to get stronger against larger linemen upfront. Now Cole will need to learn on the fly as he will attempt to stabilize the line heading into the season.
The Cardinals begin their preseason with a game on Saturday against the Los Angeles Chargers. Cole will have his first taste at NFL action, even if it is preseason and will likely be against backups. It will go a long way to get the rookie ready for the start of the regular season. Time will tell if Cole will rise to the challenge. For now the Cardinals will put their hopes in their rookie center and hope the iron man comes up golden.