Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

90-man roster analysis: Centers, guards

The Arizona Cardinals bring back starters Mike Iupati and A.Q. Shipley, but the team is searching for a replacement for starting right guard Evan Mathis, who retired this offseason.

Tier Key

1: Players who, barring a significant setback or injury, will make the Cardinals' 53-man roster this season

2: Players who must compete for a spot on the Cardinals' 53-man roster this season

3: Players who are likely to be cut by the Cardinals prior to the team finalizing its 53-man roster this season

Centers, guards

Tier 1: A.Q. ShipleyMike IupatiEvan BoehmDorian Johnson

Analysis: The Cardinals entered the 2016 offseason without a set plan in place for how to replace center Lyle Sendlein, who spent nearly a decade with his hometown organization before head coach Bruce Arians elected to move in a different direction. Arians wanted veteran A.Q. Shipley and Earl Watford to battle for the right to replace Sendlein, but the competition Arians envisioned never fully materialized. From the outset of OTAs, Shipley laid claim to the starting job and never surrendered it in an impressive display of toughness and perseverance. The Penn State product wound up being Arizona's most dependable offensive lineman a season ago, and was the only player to start all 16 games along the Cardinals' offensive front. This year, there's no doubt Shipley will hold down the starting center job, and he'll play next to Mike Iupati, who is the team's best run blocker. With that duo back in the fold, the only question mark for the Cardinals' starting five is who wins the right guard job vacated by retired veteran Evan Mathis? Arians has indicated Boehm, who was a center in college and backed up Shipley last season, will have the first crack at winning the job, but we think if fourth round draft choice Dorian Johnson can stay healthy, the rookie has an excellent opportunity to push Boehm for the job this season. Johnson was an All-American at the college level, and could turn out to be one of the biggest steals of the draft if he pans out the way the Cardinals expect him to. Overall, the Cardinals are in solid shape with their tier one offensive linemen, especially following the emergence of Shipley.

Tier 2: Cole TonerTony Bergstrom

Analysis: The Cardinals had high hopes for Cole Toner, a fifth round draft choice out of Harvard, last season, but his assimilation to the professional level was a challenging one as he played with a high pad level throughout training camp and wasn't necessarily sure whether his future would be at tackle or at guard. Toner isn't a fluid mover along the offensive line, but he's a smart player who understands his responsibilities and is probably a better run blocker than a pass blocker at this point. It's likely still too early for the Cardinals to be able to rely on Toner to provide meaningful depth along the offensive line, but it's also a bit too early to give up on a former fifth round pick. The addition of Tony Bergstrom was an important one for Arizona this offseason, because he has the potential to battle for a role as a backup and push Toner in training camp. Bergstrom has the versatility to play both center and guard, and he's played in 31 games over the past two seasons, which indicates he has the experience to step up and fill in if the Cardinals are hit hard by injuries again.

Tier 3: Kaleb JohnsonLucas CrowleyDaniel Munyer

Analysis: Our expectation is that the Cardinals will keep somewhere between four and five interior offensive linemen, which will make it challenging for any of the three tier three players to lay claim to a roster spot. Kaleb Johnson, a second-year guard/tackle out of Rutgers, could have the best opportunity of making the team given his positional flexibility, but the Cardinals already have John Wetzel returning to the team, who proved last season he can provide Arizona with more than enough positional flexibility. Lucas Crowley is an intriguing prospect because he was well regarded at North Carolina, and multi-year college starters along the offensive line often find a way to earn a shot in the professional ranks despite being undrafted. We had the opportunity to watch Munyer play in college at Colorado and liked his potential, but he plays with a pad level that's a bit high and isn't as technically sound as some of the Cardinals' other options. 

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