Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

With Iupati questionable, Wetzel could make first career start

If Mike Iupati is unable to play Monday, all signs point to John Wetzel making his first career start.

It's been more than three years since Boston College offensive tackle John Wetzel entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent, and on Monday, the Arizona Cardinals' reserve tackle could make his first career start. 

While Wetzel has spent the better part of three years bouncing from practice squad to practice squad, a shortage of quality offensive linemen helped him make the Cardinals' roster out of training camp this season. 

Though Wetzel was never going to threaten the starting lineup if the Cardinals remained healthy, injuries to starting left guard Evan Mathis and starting right guard Mike Iupati have placed the journeyman into a pair of unfamiliar positions.

First: The position in which Wetzel will earn playing time. Second: The position in which that playing time will come at guard, and not his natural position of tackle.

Such is the state of the Arizona Cardinals' offensive line, where Mathis is out for the season with an ankle injury suffered against San Francisco and Iupati is questionable at best for Monday night's affair against the New York Jets.

With fifth round draft pick Cole Toner, a linemen who has spent the first months of his career practicing at guard, not prepared to handle the complexities of facing a starting defense, the Cardinals will likely turn to Wetzel on a night where Arizona needs solid offensive line play.

The five games Wetzel has appeared in during the 2016 season are the first five in which Wetzel has played at the NFL level during the regular season, and his second half minutes against San Francisco in place of Iupati were the most extensive action of his career to date.

Head coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer, who watched Thursday's game against San Francisco from home, both commended Wetzel for his ability to adjust on the fly, remarking that he hadn't so much as taken a practice rep at guard since fall camp before assuming an important role against the 49ers.

By all accounts, Wetzel performed admirably in place of Iupati, whose likely replacement, reserve guard and primary backup Earl Watford, had already entered the lineup in place of an injured Mathis.

The Cardinals wound up dominating the 49ers on the ground, but this week, they face a more significant challenge as they match up with a New York Jets' defense that ranks second in the NFL against the run.

Arians remarked early last week that the Jets are a far more complicated team for a player like Wetzel to face, because they traditionally line up defensive linemen head up over guards as opposed to a 49ers team where Wetzel was typically immediately working to the second level to secure a block. 

Even though Wetzel played well against San Francisco, Arians' most recent comments suggest the Cardinals are wary of having to play an entire game with an unproven backup making his first career start at a position he's only practiced at for a few days. 

The Cardinals' head coach said even though Iupati did not practice at all this week, if the Pro Bowl guard felt he was capable of playing when he arrived on Monday and it was safe for him to do so, Arizona would not hesitate to put him in the starting lineup and keep Wetzel prepared to replace him on the sidelines. 

If Wetzel does play, though, he'll join Watford who is making his fifth career start, right tackle D.J. Humphries who is making his sixth career start, and center A.Q. Shipley who has fewer than 25 career starts on one of the most inexperienced offensive lines in the NFL.


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