TEMPE — Injuries, the one random constant that hangs over every NFL team.
The Arizona Cardinals offensive line fought the injury bug from training camp to the final whistle as seven linemen made the trip to the injured reserve during the 2018 season.
All told, A.Q. Shipley, Justin Pugh, D.J. Humphries, Mike Iupati, John Wetzel, Jeremy Vujnovich and Korey Cunningham all missed multiple games due to injuries, greatly affecting the offense as a whole.
But it’s a new year for the offensive line, with players returning from injury and new additions from the offseason filling the Cardinals training facility.
“I feel great about where we’re going with this team. The offensive line, we got a great group of guys who want to work hard and want to compete,” Pugh said. “That’s going to allow the best five to be on the field come Sundays.
“Obviously we had some injuries last year, but some guys got some reps. We got a lot of guys who’ve got experience out here and it’s only going to make us better.”
One of those guys who gained more reps due to an injury was then-rookie Mason Cole.
Cole, who filled in for Shipley after the lineman suffered a torn ACL in the team’s Red & White practice before the season started, quickly proved his worth.
Out of the numerous line combinations the team rolled out last season, Cole was the lone player to start all 16 games in the trenches, playing 942 snaps.
The next closest?
Offensive lineman D.J. Humphries, who had 522 snaps.
Korey Cunningham, who ended the season on the IR after suffering a foot injury in December, was another lineman that was thrown into the mix, starting six games.
But instead of living in the darkness of last season, the team is using those negatives to find positives.
“I’d say we’ve improved tremendously, just having everybody healthy again,” Cunningham said. “Everybody’s hungry, we remember last season. We want to put it past us, but we want to build from that so we don’t have to go back there again.”
After struggling to find bodies to properly fill the trenches the year before, the Cardinals made it a point to go out to add reinforcements along the line in J.R. Sweezy, Marcus Gilbert and Desmond Harrison.
The duo of Sweezy and Gilbert bring a veteran presence to the team, having 78 and 87 starts, respectively, in their careers.
“They know how to win, they know how to win at this level and they bring great leadership,” Pugh said of the two linemen. “I couldn’t think of two better guys to bring into our room.”
Harrison, who comes over following his rookie year with the Cleveland Browns, started the first eight games of the season before being benched following the Hue Jackson firing.
“The opportunities are great here,” Harrison said when asked about the opportunity of playing for the Cardinals. “It’s a great team to be with, just to deal with, so it’s a great opportunity for me.”
But while the team can do everything it can to stay healthy, injuries are a given in the NFL.
It’s how a team overcomes the adversity that separates itself from the rest of the league.
“It’s just the nature of the beast we play,” Pugh said when asked about dealing with injuries. “It’s guys being able to step up and fill in when their number’s called and us being able to compete at a high level no matter who’s out there.
“And that’s what the great teams do, every team that’s won in the past has had injuries throughout the year. It’s how you can respond in [those moments] and still move forward.”