TEMPE, Ariz. – Bradley Sowell had just finished lifting weights Wednesday morning when he looked at his cell phone. A text message was waiting. Sowell was needed in general manager Steve Keim’s office.
Sowell thought it could only mean one thing: his month-long run with the Arizona Cardinals was over. Why else would the GM want to see him other than to cut him?
As Sowell found out after he met with Keim, there’s another reason a general manager would summon a player to his office: to name him the starting left tackle.
The undrafted free agent out of Mississippi had just three days to work with the first team, preparing for a front seven that’s given the likes of Seattle, Buffalo and the New York Giants fits.
“[I’m] as ready as I can be, I can imagine,” Sowell said. “I won’t know until I’m out there. All I can do is try my hardest and get out and see what I got.”
The Cardinals wouldn’t have made the Brown move on Wednesday if they didn’t think Sowell was ready, coach Bruce Arians said this week. He consulted with the veteran defensive players, who threw their support behind Sowell.
But Arians doesn’t hope Sowell will just be a stopgap at a position that’s plagued the Cardinals for years. Although he’s tied as the lowest-paid starting left tackle in the league at $480,000, Sowell is being given a chance to prove he’s worth an extension.
“That’s his opportunity right now, to prove to us come January, February that we don’t need to make that look behind door number two,” Arians said. “That’s his job right now, to take this opportunity like these other young guys have and run with them. And I expect he will.”
Arians and offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin coached Sowell in Indianapolis, so both knew what they were getting when he was signed on Sept. 1. Sowell was thrown into the Colts’ playoff game last season in Baltimore at right tackle because of an injury (after he himself spent the week feeling ill) and was able to hold his own against Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger.
Sowell was surprised when the Colts released him after training camp, but when he started seeing who Indianapolis was drafting and signing, he figured he’d be a casualty of the numbers game. At that point, Sowell just hoped he would land in a good position.
He couldn’t have asked for a better situation -- rejoining the two coaches who mentored him during his first season and returning to playing left tackle, his natural position.
Keim doesn’t see a drop-off from Brown to Sowell.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a drop,” Keim said. “I think it’s going to either be maintained or it’s going to potentially have some growth in that area. I think Bruce hit on it. Levi was playing so inconsistent that I think Bradley can step in and play at least to that level, if not better.”
Especially against the speed rush, the one area that wound up being Brown’s kryptonite.
Ask Sowell and he’ll tell you he’s more of an athletic tackle than a power tackle.
Ask Arians and he’ll tell you Sowell has done well against the Cardinals’ speed rushers.
But ask Keim, and he’ll temper expectations of the young Sowell, preparing the fan base for the possibility of a rough few weeks with San Francisco, Seattle and Atlanta on tap after Carolina.
“I think the one thing you got to understand is there’s no question that all young players are going to take their lumps,” Keim said. “I don’t think that’s going to be any different for Bradley. We don’t expect him to jump in and look like [Cleveland left tackle] Joe Thomas Week 1. He’s going to have his issues from time to time, but what we’re banking on is a guy who’s going to continually grow and get better and a guy we can win with in the future.
“He certainly has all the physical tools, the size, the length, the athleticism. Now [it] comes down to putting it all together on Sundays.”
Whether Sowell is the answer will be seen Sunday against the Panthers at University of Phoenix Stadium. By nightfall, the pundits and critics will be able to label Sowell as better or worse than his predecessor.
But Goodwin already knows. Sowell is different, and sometimes "different" means "better."
“Different from the standpoint [of] fresher legs,” Goodwin said. “Obviously he’s younger, doesn’t have the wear and tear Levi had, and he’s eager. He’s a second-year player so he thinks he’s the best out there. So he’s got a chance to prove it now.”
But does Sowell really believe that, or is it just coachspeak?
“He better,” Goodwin said with a laugh. “When you play in the National Football League you better think you’re the baddest dude on the field at your position. I think, hopefully, he’ll be OK.”