GLENDALE, Ariz. – Depth is good.
But having a second-team offensive line with nearly as much experience as the starters is nearly unheard of. The Arizona Cardinals backups – left tackle Bradley Sowell, left guard Earl Watford, center Lyle Sendlein, right guard Ted Larsen and right tackle D.J. Humphries – have 168 starts combined, and that’s with Watford and Humphries having never started a game.
Arizona’s projected starting offensive line has 192 career starts between them.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had a backup offensive line going into a preseason game this good,” coach Bruce Arians said.
With the exception of Watford and Humphries, the remaining three second-teamers have all had significant starting roles for the Cardinals in the past. Sowell started 12 games in 2013 after Levi Brown was traded. Larsen started all 16 games last season – 14 at left guard and two on the right side – in place of Jonathan Cooper. And Sendlein had been a staple at center, starting 109 games there since 2008, until he was released in March.
Humphries may be the next backup to become a starter.
He’ll be battling Sowell to take over for right tackle Bobby Massie, who was suspended by the league for three games for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy, according to reports.
Sendlein, who’s seen the ups and downs of the organization from a Super Bowl to a nine-game losing streak in the last eight seasons, believes that type of depth on the second team is a reflection of the organization more than anything.
“I think it just speaks volumes for where this organization is headed,” he said. “Obviously, you’re getting free agents that either want to come here or stay here and be part of this transition to becoming a perennial winning team.”
To Cooper, who was part of Arizona’s second team a year ago, the backups’ experience has been helpful. The No. 7 overall draft pick in 2013 has just two career starts because of a broken leg his rookie season and losing his job last year, so he’s still learning how to be an NFL guard.
But he’s aware that Larsen and Watford – and even Sowell – are coming for his job.
“It’s very beneficial,” Cooper said. “Not only do they push me, they work with me. We’re bouncing things off one another. They’re just a knowledgeable group.
“It’s pretty awesome to see such a solid group all the way down and with such depth.”
Building that kind of depth cost Arizona, however.
The projected starters will earn a combined $22.7 million this season and the projected second team will make $9.7 million. Arizona is the only team in the league to have seven offensive linemen scheduled to make more than $1 million in 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information. A few teams had five or six.
That investment has backup quarterback Drew Stanton feeling safe. He told Arians he would start a game with the second unit.
“We do have a lot of experience and obviously a lot of talent,” Sendlein said about the second team.
“It’s fun to be able to trust the guy next to you because they’ve either been in the system or played a lot or have great, fresh talent like D.J. So, it’s fun.”