After a season of shifting personnel, either due to injuries or ineffectiveness, the offensive line is finally solidifying for the Arizona Cardinals.
Just in time to plow the way for Adrian Peterson.
The Cardinals will have the same players on the line for the fourth straight game when they line up to play the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday night.
“It feels good,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “Those guys have been playing together for a while now and, knock on wood, hopefully we can stay with that same group throughout the rest of the year.”
The unit has young and ever-improving D.J. Humphries at left tackle, veteran Alex Boone at left guard, A.Q. Shipley at center, Earl Watford at right guard and Jared Veldheer at right tackle.
Coach Bruce Arians gave the linemen, plus tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Troy Niklas, game balls for their play in Sunday’s 20-10 victory over the 49ers in San Francisco.
“I thought all five, plus the tight ends, did a hell of a job,” Arians said.
Watford played in 15 games for Arizona last season, 10 as a starter. He signed with Jacksonville in the offseason but was released in early September and was re-signed by the Cardinals last month.
Boone turned out to be an important addition after Mike Iupati went down for the season with a triceps injury.
“We’re starting to have success,” said Goodwin, whose specialty is the offensive line. “Guys are starting to get comfortable with one another and the protection has gotten better, the run game has gotten better.”
When they all got together for the first time, Peterson rushed for 134 yards in his Arizona debut in a 38-33 win over Tampa Bay. No one played well for Arizona in the team’s 33-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in London, but the line was at its best in San Francisco.
Especially in front of Peterson, who carried the ball a career-high 37 times for 159 yards against the 49ers. Quarterback Drew Stanton wasn’t sacked.
Now they’ve all got to get ready in a hurry in a short week of practice, all of them simply walk-throughs, before facing the always tough defense of the Seahawks.
“I’m sore as hell,” Humphries said. “I’m going to be fine, though. I’m 23. Ask the older guys how they feel. I’m pretty sure that’s the real tell. I’ll be fine in a couple of days.”
Humphries said he’s marveled as Peterson starts out with gains of maybe one or two yards and they become five or six as the defense wears down later in the game.
“He finds some of the smallest cracks and jumps through them,” Humphries said, “and when he puts his foot on the ground, he’s top speed.”
Niklas found out that you’d better block your man when Peterson is behind you.
“When you’re blocking your guy you better get the hell out of the way or you’ll get run up the back,” Goodwin said. “I think that puts the onus on the guys to get their feet on the ground, move their defender and make way for him because he’s coming. He’s not going to be messing around when he’s got it in his hands.”