TEMPE, Ariz. – The biggest news from the Arizona Cardinals' practice Wednesday wasn’t news to anyone who’s paid attention to their offensive line during the last few weeks.
“He’s had his opportunities,” Arians said of Cooper, who was recently suffering from turf toe. “You can’t get there in a day’s practice. Not after a month. Like I said before, I don’t care about draft status. I want to see results on the field and Ted Larsen has way outplayed him.”
Larsen, the veteran and versatile offensive lineman, moved to starting guard following the second preseason game after he spent three weeks filling in as Arizona’s starting center while Lyle Sendlein was injured. He hasn’t left.
The Cardinals’ line isn’t deep in numbers but it’s versatile. Arizona kept eight offensive linemen on the 53-man roster, making position flexibility essential to keeping a job. Of the three backups -- Bradley Sowell, Earl Watford and Cooper -- Cooper is the only one who hasn’t played multiple positions. Larsen is a swing guard/center. Arizona signed guard/center Anthony Steen and tackle Kelvin Palmer to the practice squad.
The plan is to stick with eight offensive linemen on the roster for as long as possible, Arians said.
“Until we find a better one that’s better than somebody on our roster than we’re not changing it,” he said. “They’re hard to find.”
Which is why the Cardinals began working Watford at right tackle this week.
He was drafted as a right guard and had an opportunity to win the left guard job during training camp but inconsistent play in games left the door open for Larsen. Wednesday was Watford’s second day taking reps at tackle, a position he’s never played before.
“It’s different,” he said. “I’m able to use some of my stuff I use at guard at tackle. That has helped me to get a little bit more comfortable with it. Sets are a little bit different. The type of payers you’re going up against are different. That’s probably the biggest thing.
“From a knowledge standpoint, you got to know some different things. I think I’m learning it pretty well.”
Learning right tackle quickly could be the difference between Watford dressing for all 16 games and watching from the sideline in sweats. There aren’t many opportunities for a lineman to steal a job away from a starter during the season, as Cooper is learning, because Arizona practices in pads just once a week.
“It’s hard, unless somebody gets hurt,” Arians said. “Now, [Cooper] better be ready if someone goes down. That’s probably going to be his best opportunity.”
Starting right guard Paul Fanaika has been impressed with how the Cards’ backup linemen have been trusted to learn the techniques and assignments at multiple positions.
Imagine spending the last five years, at least, at the same job and then, in a moment's notice, your boss changes what you’re doing? That’s Watford. Instead of blocking hefty defensive lineman up the middle of the line, he’ll be responsible for stopping the speed rushers off the edge. It hasn't taken Watford long to figure out getting beat inside isn't ideal and he’d rather force them outside and into a loop around him.
The more Watford knows, the better off he’ll be.
“It’s huge, it’s huge,” he said. “You never know what can happen to anyone. A lot of people can go down … might need to get in there, so you have to be ready no matter what.”