Offensive line remains on Cardinals’ draft radar

The Cardinals have an apparent need at right tackle, where Bobby Massie (pictured) is in competition with Bradley Sowell.

Mark J. Rebilas

TEMPE, Ariz. — When analyzing the handful of positions the Cardinals could address with their first-round draft pick (20th overall) on Thursday, there is an argument to be made for choosing an offensive lineman for the second straight year.

"I might be a little biased, but I think we’re pretty important," said Cardinals left guard Jonathan Cooper, the team’s first-round pick last year. "When the offensive line is doing its job, it makes it a lot easier on everybody else."

That hasn’t happened enough in the Cardinals’ history in Arizona. The first line the Cards trotted out upon arriving in the Valley in 1988 may have been their best, with three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Luis Sharpe joining left guard Todd Peat, center Derek Kennard, right guard Lance Smith and right tackle Tootie Robbins. 

The Big Red Line of 2001 (LT L.J. Shelton, LG Pete Kendall, C Mike Gruttadauria, RG Leonard Davis and RT Anthony Clement) had potential but never became elite. Even in the Super Bowl year, quarterback Kurt Warner’s quick reads and releases helped compensate for weaknesses up front. Neither of those lines produced any Pro Bowlers, although Levi Brown was an alternate in 2009.

Last season, when the team caught fire over the second half, it was in part because the coaching staff made concessions in route running and protections schemes to mitigate issues up front. Again, the Cardinals had no Pro Bowl linemen.

Feeling a draft

Until last season, the Cards hadn’t selected an offensive lineman higher than the fourth round since taking Brown with the fifth overall pick in 2007. Neither that pick nor the second-round selection of guard Deuce Lutui in 2006 panned out, but the old-school mentality of waiting to select offensive linemen in the later rounds has changed. 

"I don’€™t think there’s any doubt," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "Safeties and tackles, everybody used to have a low opinion — offensive linemen in general."

But last year, nine offensive linemen were selected in last year’s first round, including Cooper. The Cardinals made a big splash in free agency this summer, signing left tackle Jared Veldheer to pair with Cooper, who missed all of last season with a broken leg but hopes to be ready for training camp. The team hopes that pairing will be the anchor for an elite line.

Center Lyle Sendlien is still in place, and the Cardinals have a couple options at right guard — last year’s starter, Paul Fanaika, and the team’s second fourth-round selection in 2013, Earl Watford.

But what about the right tackle spot?

Right now, that battle appears to be between Bradley Sowell and Bobbby Massie, the team’s fourth-round pick in 2012.

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"Bradley did a nice job on the left side last year. We’€™ll see how he can transition to the right side," general manager Steve Keim said. "Bobby Massie is a guy that has all the physical tools, but we’€™ve talked about it over and over –€“ it’€™s up to him. He’€™s a guy that you hope develops. Only time will tell."

The Cardinals could always address the position in free agency this summer if they don’t like what they see in OTAS and mini-camp. Last year’s starter, Eric Winston, is still available, and there are others, such as former Titan David Stewart.

They could also address it in the later rounds since the 2014 Draft is considered deep in tackles. But if the Cardinals feel comfortable with their outside linebacker depth for another year (Sam Acho, Lorenzo Alexander and Alex Okafor return from injuries to join John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy) … and if Daryl Washington escapes further suspension and the Cardinals feel good about Kevin Minter alongside him at inside linebacker … and if they think they can get a strong safety in the second or third round … and if they feel no QBs warrant first-round consideration … maybe, just maybe, a right tackle makes sense.

That’s a lot of ifs, but the draft never did deal in certainties. 

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