Cardinals see Veldheer as long-term answer at left tackle
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It almost sounded like an incantation from a mad scientist reviewing the schematic for his latest creation.
"Six-eight, three-twenty and 26 years old . . . and he's mean, he's athletic, he's got all the traits. "
Bruce Arians didn't quite punctuate this description with an evil-sounding cackle, but it probably would have served.
We can forgive the Cardinals coach for any gone-sideways happiness, because he was responding to an inquiry regarding Arizona's big-ticket item during the last free-agency market. And, for posterity, the traits Arians was listing, sort of officially, are 6-foot-8 and 320 pounds. Oh, and the subject actually is 27 years old now. The "mean" and "athletic" stuff appears to be legit, however.
This particular asset is named Jared Veldheer and he was hired away from the Oakland Raiders to fill (finally) the role of Arizona's franchise offensive left tackle. His Raiders nicknamed him "The Big Serious," but not just because he's seriously big.
Anyway, through the first string of training-camp workouts at University of Phoenix Stadium, this hire seems to be working out well.
"You wonder how he got out there," Arians, sort of referring to the Raiders' failure to slap the deadly franchise tag upon the anchor of their offensive line, said. "But we sure are glad he did.
"Hopefully, the tackle situation's gonna be put to bed for eight to 10 years."
With the mission to go lights out on opponents harboring bad intentions toward Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, Veldheer wouldn't mind such longevity.
"That'd be all I can ask for," Veldheer said when told about the eight-to-10 years thing. "That'd be awesome. My goal is be that accountable guy at the left tackle spot. I want the quarterback to have all the time in the world and not having to pick himself off the ground or have people even remotely around him. The goal is to keep everything five or six feet away from him. I don't even want him (the ol' QB) to be able to smell 'em."
That whiff of competitive gusto certainly fits Veldheer's incremental rise toward stardom while employed in Oakland. But it didn't seem all that plausible when he finished high school as a (relatively) gangly, 6-8, 255 athlete and enrolled to play football at Division II Hillsdale in his native Michigan.
While adding usable sinew to his frame and technique to his game, Veldheer eventually grew into a third-round pick in the NFL Draft.
Once that was established, Veldheer began transforming his hulking frame into something more pliable. To that end, he began working out back in Grand Rapids during the off-season with trainer Mark Ehnis.
Ehnis, realizing the guy he knew from high school already was NFL big and strong, focused on a three-year progression to help Veldheer translate even more of his power and agility to the field.
"That was huge," Veldheer said of this practical approach. "I've been training with Mark last three-and-a-half to almost four years. And it's great, not only building strength, but being more flexible, more mobile because that's one of the biggest things . . . being able to open your hips, bend your hips, play that way.
"When you can play that way, it takes care of a lot of things. You're just better off than just being a muscle-head out there. It doesn't do you any good . . . you've got to be athletic."
Palmer, who escaped Oakland after the 2012 season, will vouch for the translatable assets of his new/old left tackle.
"Just looking at him," Palmer said, "you think 'if he can move, he can play.'
"He's extremely powerful . . . if he gets his hands on you, it's over. He's a great athlete, he moves his feet really well."
With any size/movement questions answered, our expert witness then assured us that Veldheer has the proper mental approach to thrive.
"We called him 'The Big Serious'," Palmer said, "because of the way he carries himself . . . in the locker room, in the weight room . . . and then we he gets to the field . . ."
When he gets to the field, that in-game mean gene Arians referenced takes over.
But while (semi-)controlled aggression certainly doesn't hurt anywhere on the field, offensive linemen also have a lot of critical thinking to do. It doesn't take long to realize Veldheer can talk the talk of his job description.
Here's his take on how things are progressing from his perspective on the far left side on the Arizona O-Line.
"We've been working hard out here and were getting it piece by piece," he said, "and working on stuff every day to make sure that when the season hits we're all rolling on the same page.
"As an offense, it's very deep and talented -- you've got a backfield that's explosive, receivers that are explosive and an O-line that can protect, and a quarterback that can sling it. All the pieces are there, and the guys know that. It's just knowing the mental stuff, all getting on the same page and getting those intricacies down."
After four years in the league, it's hard to imagine a player with this profile of size, agility and understanding having been missed by the big-boy college football factories of the upper Midwest.
Now having signed a five-year, $35 million deal ($17 million guaranteed) with Arizona, Veldheer has further validation of an arrival he began to embrace pretty quickly after hitting the NFL.
"Probably after my rookie season," he said of becoming self-aware as a card-carrying left tackle. "Just being a small-school guy coming out and earning a spot in the starting rotation -- that was something that was a goal, but that happened really fast.
"I just basically tried to learn from everything that's happened in games, especially the bad games and just learning what made it a bad game."
And if there few bad games for any left tackle, an offense loaded with explosives can detonate. Unfortunately, high-level play at that position hasn't happened too often around here. The Cardinals are paying him serious money to solidify the position, and the fans are hoping Veldheer is tackle enough to keep Palmer clean in a conference full of beastly pass rushers.
The expectations are high, but a mean, athletic guy who's 6-8, 320 doesn't flinch at such pressure.
"I welcome that challenge," Veldheer said. "I want to step out there and do my job, help out my O-line brothers next to me. If everyone has that focus, they're going to take care of their spot, their assignment, then you're going to be successful."
We're taking him seriously.