TEMPE, Ariz. — A look of disgust crossed Lyle Sendlein’s face as he imagined the impending fan reaction to Levi Brown’s triceps injury Friday night against the Oakland Raiders.
“It makes me sick thinking about what people are going to say,” the Arizona Cardinals center said. “People have no idea how much he does for us.”
Cardinals fans are about to get a tangible measure of Brown’s value to the Arizona offense. Brown had surgery to repair a torn tendon in his right triceps on Tuesday morning. If all goes well with his rehab, he could return to the lineup late in the season. If any part of the plan goes off track, he could miss the entire season.
“I’m not going to go stick my head in a pillow and start crying,” offensive line coach Russ Grimm told reporters Monday in Flagstaff. “It’s always tough when you have to replace somebody, but that’s the nature of this business.”
Grimm may yet reach for a box of tissues when he gets a good, long look at Brown’s possible replacements at left tackle. D.J. Young, who was on the practice squad last season, will move into the starting lineup Thursday against the Titans in Tennessee.
The staff also will look at D’Anthony Batiste, who struggled against the Raiders at right tackle, and rookie Nate Potter from Boise State. If all of those moves fail, Arizona could slide veteran Jeremy Bridges to the left side — he played there in 2009 when Mike Gandy got hurt — and move rookie Bobby Massie into the starting role on the right side.
The Cardinals also will consider free-agent possibilities and cuts from other teams. Former Packers player Chad Clifton was one name being bandied about the airwaves on Tuesday, but he has struggled with back issues. Clifton was released by the Packers on April 23 after failing a physical.
For as much criticism as Grimm has faced in his tenure in Arizona, it’s important to note the Cardinals have drafted just one offensive lineman in the third round or higher since Grimm arrived. That lineman was Brown, whom Arizona took with the fifth pick in the 2007 draft, much to the hindsight-fueled dismay of the fan base.
“I don’t care what anyone else tells you,” Grimm said earlier in training camp. “Levi Brown is a good football player. People just don’t know how to judge these things.”
There is no denying that Brown was inconsistent in his first five seasons. Part of that was because of his own slower-than-hoped progression, part of it was because of what the Cardinals have asked of him.
“We leave him on an island all the time,” Sendlein said. “He doesn’t get any help, and he has a lot of other duties people don’t understand. If he messes up a couple times, that’s always what people notice.”
Brown appeared to come into his own over the second half of the 2012 season. Cynics will say it’s because he was in a contract year. Coach Ken Whisenhunt prefers to think that Brown finally started to figure things out at one of the game’s most difficult and scrutinized positions.
So if you’re thinking life without Levi will be a better life, hold that thought for a few months and see how you feel then. Maybe you’ll be vindicated, or maybe you’ll look like a fool.
“He’s our leader out there,” Sendlein said with subdued anger in his voice. “You just don’t go replacing a guy like that overnight.”