TEMPE, Ariz. — Perhaps the biggest uncertainty facing the Arizona Cardinals as the season approaches is whether the re-designed offensive line can protect Carson Palmer.
Palmer was sacked 40 times and Arizona quarterbacks — and that almost always was Palmer — took 127 hits, third-most of any team in the NFL last season. The 37-year-old quarterback is crucial to Arizona’s hopes of bouncing back from last year’s disappointing season.
The Cardinals obviously had some concerns because this week they signed seven-year NFL veteran guard Alex Boone to a one-year deal. Second-year pro Evan Boehm is the team’s new starting right guard and that won’t change, at least for now.
“He’s just learning,” Arians said Wednesday after Boone’s first Arizona practice. “Right now, he learned the snap count today, and he got a few reps. We’ll see. Right now, there’ll have to be an injury or somebody has to really fail badly (to change the O-line lineup).”
Boone was asked if he considered himself a starter.
“I consider myself whatever these coaches consider me,” he said. “I just follow orders. I’m a good soldier.”
And Boehm is adamant about keeping his job.
“He’s an awesome player,” Boehm said of Boone, “but it’s my job and I’m going to keep my job. Nobody’s going to take my job away from me.”
Boone signed a four-year, $26.8 million contract with Minnesota after spending his first seven NFL seasons with San Francisco. But he lasted only one season with the Vikings and was released last week, Minnesota eating $3 million in the process.
“At the end of the day it’s a business,” Boone said. “I get it. This isn’t my first rodeo. So I’m just happy to get picked up here with a great group of guys.”
Starter or not, Boone adds some much-needed veteran depth on the line.
“A guy that has played the positions, all across the (line), in very good organizations at a high level,” Arians said. “A pro. It’s one thing to depend on a rookie you really like, and it’s nicer to have a veteran, so you don’t have to throw that rookie out there.”
Other than Boehm, the starting offensive line in Sunday’ opener at Detroit is the same cast of characters from last year.
But D.J. Humphries moves from right tackle to left, while Jared Veldheer goes from left to right. Mike Iupati and A.Q. Shipley remain at left guard and center, respectively.
Arians said he expects better pass protection this year even though it’s mainly the same blockers. Why?
“I just watched these guys practice for 35 days,” the coach said. “They all look better.”
Arians said he could alter his play calling to help prevent Palmer from taking so many hits.
“Yeah, I think we did some of that as the year went on last year,” the coach said, ” and he has to protect himself just as much as the guys protecting him. It’s not just the offensive line; it’s the running backs, it’s all 11 of them seeing their hots and sights. We missed too many of those last year where we took hits, or missed a sight adjustment.”
Palmer, entering his 15th NFL season, is a classic dropback passer with little mobility. He acknowledged he has to do a better job of helping with his own protection.
“A number of things,” he said. “Getting the ball out quicker always helps. Throwing the ball away always helps. So, there are a handful of things you can do to improve those things.”
Palmer had a poor first half to last season but was much better in the final eight games. The improvement coincided with Arians’ decision to give Palmer Wednesday’s off from practice.
The Cardinals expanded that philosophy in the offseason. Palmer didn’t throw at all in the winter months or through the early weeks of OTAs. And he took at least one day a week off during training camp. As usual, he had Wednesday’s practice off, as did Larry Fitzgerald.
“I definitely feel fresher,” Palmer said. “There’s no doubt. Coming off of training camp last year, and as the season started, I definitely feel fresher than I did last year.”
Notes: Arians said there is “no chance” inside linebacker Deone Bucannon will play in the opener. Bucannon is coming off ankle surgery and sprained an ankle his first day back at practice in training camp. First-round draft pick Haason Reddick moves to the starting role. … Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche (calf strain) did not practice but Arians was hopeful he would on Thursday.