TEMPE, Ariz. — Carson Palmer is spending a lot of time on his back these days, on the green grass (or fake grass) behind the Arizona line of scrimmage.
The Cardinals' quarterback is trying to operate behind a patchwork offensive line and the results have sometimes been brutal.
Continuity is always included as a crucial element to a strong offensive line. That was the case last season, when the Cardinals went 13-3.
“Looking back to last year, I think we got through most of the year with the same guys,” Palmer said Wednesday. “This year, it's been the exact opposite. It's been different guys, different spots, different weeks, but that's the game.”
Last week in Atlanta, the line included two players who weren't starters when the season began and a third who switched positions. Only left guard Mike Iupati and center A.J. Shipley are playing in the same spots.
The line issues aren't the only reason the Cardinals are 4-6-2, but they are a major contributor.
The line was a problem at times last season and general manager Steve Keim thought he was taking steps to improve it.
D.J. Humphries, the team's' first-round draft pick a year ago, didn't play a down as a rookie but was installed at right tackle to start this season.
The Cardinals signed Evan Mathis to play right guard and tutor Humphries. Shipley replaced Lyle Sendlein at center. The left side was set with Iupati at guard and Jared Veldheer at tackle.
First, Mathis was lost for the season with an ankle injury. Then Iupati was out for a time with an ankle problem. Veldheer went on injured reserve with torn triceps.
So enter John Wetzel, who had bounced around a few practice squads but never had played in an NFL game until he started at left tackle following Veldheer's injury. Iupati returned and Earl Watford filled in at right guard.
But Watford has been benched in the latest shakeup. Wetzel was moved to right guard, Humphries shifted to left tackle and Urlicek John was brought in to play right tackle.
The 6-foot-5, 307-pound John was signed off of the Miami practice squad when Mathis was hurt in early October. A seventh-round draft pick of Indianapolis out of Georgia State in 2014, his only was experience on an active roster before this year was two games in Miami last season.
Humphries has emerged as a bright spot. Called out publicly for his lack of maturity and effort early last season, the big lineman has developed nicely, Arians said. The switch to left tackle has been smooth, the coach said, because that's where Humphries played in college.
“I couldn't ask for any more out of him,” Arians said. “He's run blocking extremely well, at a very high level. He's had some ups and downs in pass protection, but overall very few mental errors and always gives a ton of effort.”
Humphries, Iupati, Shipley, Wetzel and John are not exactly a murderer's row.
But that's the lineup the Cardinals will again go with when they are home against Washington on Sunday.
“I expect them to play a full game like we played the first three quarters (against the Falcons), and hopefully not get in a position where we're down two scores and have to throw it every down,” Arians said.
Fatigue was a problem late.
Arians said Wetzel and John can avoid getting worn out “by getting in shape.”
“These guys haven't played 60, 70 plays in a long time,” he said.
Arians thought the team's run blocking was good and the pass blocking mostly adequate, until late in the game.
Still, Palmer was knocked around a lot the whole day. He was only sacked twice but was hit 10 times.
Palmer, who turns 37 in four weeks, was asked if those poundings might be a factor when he makes his decision to retire.
“I don't know. I'll have to let you know,” he said, adding dryly “IF I get there.”
Notes: Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald didn't practice as a scheduled veteran's day off. … CB Patrick Peterson (knee), cornerback Justin Bethel (foot, knee), WR John Brown (illness) and TE Jermaine Gresham (illness) also did not practice.