TEMPE, Ariz. — While the quarterback competition and the depth chart at receiver are garnering the most attention during spring and summer workouts, there’s another component of the offense could have just as much impact on the Cardinals offense this season.
With new additions via free agency and the draft, the Cardinals are working to blend the offensive line into a cohesive unit, one they hope will allow the offense to be more efficient this season.
“We’ve got to get everybody on the same page so they know the assignments now,” assistant head coach/offensive line coach Russ Grimm said. “When we get to training camp, we shouldn’t have to spend extra time working on assignments. We should be spending extra time with technique and getting a feel for your (linemates).”
While leaders Levi Brown, Daryn Colledge and Lyle Sendlein return, a number of new faces have arrived in Arizona this offseason. In free agency, the Cardinals added guard/tackle Adam Snyder, a seven-year veteran from San Francisco who looks likely to take over at right guard, a hole created when the Cardinals released Rex Hadnot.
The Cards also added a pair of linemen in the draft, taking tackle Bobby Massie out of Mississippi in the fourth round and guard Senio Kelemete out of Washington in the fifth. Their learning process adds another element to the process of syncing up the offensive line.
“They got a lot thrown at them, no question,” Grimm said. “There’s still a lot of looks they’ve got to see.”
Kelemete also has some catching up to do after missing all of the Cardinals’ organized activities before this week’s minicamp because class was still in session at Washington. The 22-year-old practiced with the team for the first time Tuesday, and coach Ken Whisenhunt said Kelemete has “a lot” of catching up to do.
“It’s not so much the scheme — that’s hard enough,” Whisenhunt said. “But when you go against our defense … and you’re seeing all the different looks … it’s hard to look at it on film and understand what’s going on. So it’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve for him.”
Added Kelemete: “I felt like I was a little behind on some of the plays they called, but other than that, I felt pretty good about it. If they just give me two or three more days, I think I can catch up. I know definitely over the weekend I’m going to be in my playbook trying to catch up with everyone.”
Expectations for Massie this season might be slightly higher since he was projected by some to be a second- or third-round pick, but he’s still a rookie. Grimm believes both rookies could make key contributions this season, adding that the need for an injury replacement is always just one play away.
Integrating an experienced player such as Snyder, who spent the past seven seasons with the 49ers, is less of challenge. Also benefiting the Cardinals this offseason is the simple existence of the offseason. Without one last year due to the NFL lockout, the Cardinals had limited time to get in sync and the offensive line struggled, allowing the second-most sacks (54) in the league.
“Last year, by the third week, we were in games playing against people and you’re still trying to learn the offense,” Colledge said. “It felt like it took six weeks before we were actually where we wanted to be mentally. For us, we feel like we’re way ahead of the game. We like where we finished last year, and we feel like we can take it a step forward at the beginning of this year.”
While Grimm and the linemen feel they are already off to a good start as a group, the real process doesn’t begin until training camp in Flagstaff opens July 24.
“Out here it all looks good when you’re going through with no pads on, but we’ll see when the physical part comes,” Grimm said. “You can know all the assignments, you can have quick feet, but if you’re not physical when that ball’s snapped, you’re going to have a hard time playing.”
Even with the group in shorts and helmets, Whisenhunt said he’s seen a jelling process from the offensive line and the development of a collective mentality of wanting to prove they can be an effective unit. He also stressed the need for the players to establish strong lines of communication.
That jelling isn’t just happening on the field. Colledge said the linemen spend as much or more time together off the field as they do on it, building trust and togetherness that carries over into competition.
“I think a lot of the cohesion, especially for offensive lines, is off the field,” Colledge said. “You’ve got to find a way to build a relationship. We’re unique in that we rely on each other so much more than the other positions do. You’ve got to kind of feel like you’ve got skin in the game with the guy playing next to you.”
When training camp does arrive in about six weeks, attention will again turn to the quarterback competition between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. Quietly, though, the linemen tasked with defending the starting QB will continue working toward being the line they believe can have as much impact as the skill players around them.
“They’re getting there, and we’ve got everything in right now,” Grimm said. “There’s still a couple things, but that’s what the offseason is for. We get the little wrinkles ironed out and our defense gives us a lot of different looks, so it’s good work for us.”