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Cardinals' offensive line picture gaining clarity for 2017

Arizona Cardinals' offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin indicated he would prefer to start D.J. Humphries at left tackle in 2017.

First, he was "Knee Deep." Then, he was the Cardinals' starting right tackle. Now?

Now, Arizona Cardinals' offensive lineman D.J. Humphries could become the protector of Carson Palmer's blind side if offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin gets his way.

In a radio interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Thursday evening, Goodwin said he'd prefer the Cardinals to use Humphries as the team's left tackle in 2017 and move veteran Jared Veldheer to the right side of the offensive line. 

"Jared is a team player, D.J. is a team player, so I'm sure we're going to have a little coach-to-player conversation, but right now, throwing it out their on my own accord, I think D.J. at left and Jared at right and we're rolling and kicking butt," Goodwin said. 

A first round draft choice out of Florida in 2015, Humphries was the rare early round selection who didn't see the field once in his rookie season, as Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians felt Humphries wasn't ready to handle the rigors of playing in the NFL. Essentially, Humphries' career in Arizona began with a redshirt season, as he earned the nickname "Knee Deep" for constantly being in the coaching staff's doghouse.

However, by the end of his first season in the NFL, Humphries had clearly demonstrated enough potential to inspire confidence in his coaches, and the Cardinals entered the 2016 offseason planning to start a player with no previous NFL experience at right tackle this season. The experiment paid dividends, as Humphries came into his own as a run-blocker and became one of the more consistent linemen on the Cardinals' roster in his first opportunity to see the field.

Veldheer, on the other hand, struggled at the outset of the 2016 season, and suffered a torn tricep muscle in week eight against Carolina that landed him on injured reserve. The injury forced the Cardinals to retool their offensive line, and Goodwin swapped Humphries into Veldheer's spot on the left side of the offensive line. 

A left tackle throughout high school and during his college career at Florida, the left tackle position is clearly more natural for Humphries and his obvious preference, and he continued to perform well in that role during the second half of the season. Though a concussion sidelined Humphries for the final few weeks of the 2016 campaign, he showed enough to the coaching staff to force them to consider keeping Humphries on the left side moving forward.

With two seasons left on his rookie contract, Humphries is a cheaper option at left tackle, and a more versatile, more athletic player than Veldheer. Though he's more prone to making mistakes by virtue of his inexperience, Humphries has a much higher upside for the Cardinals at a position that has become increasingly important through the years as more NFL teams implement spread passing concepts into their offenses. 

With Humphries at left tackle, Veldheer at right tackle, and Mike Iupati manning the team's left guard position, the Cardinals will have their three most talented linemen locked in at their respective positions through at least 2018, which should allow the team to create continuity along the offensive front, something the Cardinals lacked in 2016. 

If Arizona elects to re-sign center A.Q. Shipley, then it could be in a position to bring back four starters from an offensive line that seemingly had the pieces to excel in 2016 but never found rhythm before injuries struck early in the year. If the Cardinals let Shipley walk, then Arizona will likely allow second-year center Evan Boehm to take over in his spot, which would still offer the line a chance to create stability given the fact Boehm spent his rookie season learning under Shipley.

Based on Goodwin's comments, the team appears ready to move ahead with flipping Humphries and Veldheer, which should help the Cardinals become more athletic on the left side of the line.

Now, the most pressing question facing the Cardinals' offensive line this offseason is who steps in at right guard to replace retired starter Evan Mathis? Though we likely won't know until at least the end of free agency, the Cardinals already have important building blocks to work with at other key positions. 

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