TEMPE, Ariz. -- The past week was a major step forward in Jared Veldheer’s development as a right tackle.
The Arizona Cardinals’ first three days of OTAs were the first time Veldheer has faced live rushers on the right side, which gave him a real-time update on his progress in moving from left tackle to right tackle, a position he hasn’t played since his junior year of high school when he ran the Wing-T offense and down blocked on every play.
After his first practice on the right side, Veldheer told ESPN the basic fundamentals of right tackle “didn’t feel too bad,” but the intricacies of the position, specifically the biomechanics of flipping sides, were still a work in progress.
“The spacial awareness, where you are, what position your feet are in, all that kind of the stuff on the right side, I’m thinking about it on every play instead of just going up there and it’s natural,” Veldheer said. “That’ll just take time, but I know it’s a process.”
Veldheer is relying on his experiences adapting to the NFL from Division II Hillsdale College in Michigan to help guide him through his latest adjustment. What he learned in 2011, which is his same approach this year, is that it’s a day-by-day process, Veldheer said.
The easiest part of the move has been figuring out where to “throw” his hands. Everything else, from his leg kick and pass protection to his stance and weight distribution, however, hasn’t been as smooth.
“Those all feel kind of goofy,” Veldheer said.
The early returns on Veldheer’s performance have been mainly positive. Coach Bruce Arians said he didn’t see outside linebacker Markus Golden, who had 12.5 sacks last season, “get him too bad” on Tuesday.
Quarterback Carson Palmer, whose blind side Veldheer has been protecting for five of the last six seasons, thought Veldheer looked “good.”
“I told him that coming out of the last blitz period,” Palmer said. “A couple of times he did really well on (outside linebacker) Chandler (Jones) and had Junk (Golden) one time. He looked a lot more natural than I anticipated.”
The third-year linebacker said he couldn’t tell Veldheer was new to his position.
“Not really,” Golden said. “And if you did, he wouldn’t let you know it. Going up against him, he was out there blocking me. It didn’t seem like I was getting past him easily. That’s a good sign. If I ain’t getting past you, if I ain’t flying past you, then I know you got something in you.
“It didn’t seem like I was beating him easily.”
When Veldheer was informed of the move right after the 2016 season ended, he was “a little uncertain at first.” The Cardinals had drafted Veldheer's heir-apparent, D.J. Humphries, a natural left tackle, in the first round of the 2015 draft.
Humphries sat his entire rookie season and started 2016 at right tackle before moving to the left side in Week 11, where he spent three weeks before ending up on injured reserve. But since he was drafted, Humphries was believed to be the long-term answer at left tackle, a role Arians reaffirmed during his final news conference of the 2016 season. Later in the offseason, Arians said he'd like to see Veldheer at right tackle "because it's all about what's best for the team, and (he's) the ultimate team player."
Veldheer spent a couple of days questioning the move in his head, and talked to people in his life who’s he’s leaned on for support over the years. It didn’t take long for him to wrap his head around the decision. Veldheer said he didn’t really push back. It’s not in his personality.
“I didn’t see what good was going to come from pushing back because when a decision’s made, it’s usually made with a purpose and a reason,” Veldheer said. “I trust those who are making that decision. I accepted it and really put a lot of effort into it in the offseason and I’m excited about it.
“It’s not just me doing what I’m comfortable doing. It’s just time to get uncomfortable again, which is fine. You just got to get used to it. Just got to get back in that routine of getting uncomfortable.”
Veldheer’s showing thus far -- a week into OTAs and about three weeks since on-field work began -- has been the byproduct of time Veldheer put in by himself. The next few weeks, until minicamp concludes on June 8, will be Veldheer’s most revealing tests. Until this week, Veldheer’s transition had been relatively stress free. That’s easy to accomplish when you’re not blocking anybody.
“It’s hard to get frustrated when you’re working sets on air,” Veldheer said, “Because you’re competitive, and you’re usually beating the air every time. Rarely do you lose to the air.”
But Veldheer knows frustrations await. He knows his transition won’t always go smoothly. But the 29-year-old newly-minted father of two keeps repeating his personal mantra, which he adopted as a rookie: Be the best he can possibly be.
“It’s cheesy as it sounds, but it keeps you focused,” he said. “It keeps you always wanting to get better. It doesn’t keep you satisfied. You’re always wanting more and now it’s just ... I’m flipping it over to the other side.
“I got a lot bigger cup to fill. The cup was starting to fill up on the left and now I get to fill one up on the right. That’s not a bad thing.”