Cards' offensive line now a strength - East Valley Tribune: News

Cards' offensive line now a strength

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Posted: Wednesday, August 5, 2009 3:56 pm | Updated: 2:35 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

For all 20 games of a remarkable season, Kurt Warner lined up behind the same offensive line. This quintet, under the guidance of assistant coach Russ Grimm, did the dirty work while Warner lit up defenses with his fabulous arm.

There are no Pro Bowl players in this mostly anonymous lineup, and only late in the season was the line able to clear some holes for what had been the worst running game in the NFL.

Yet when it came to pass protection, the line was at its best, and the only big name in the group is the coach.

Grimm was a four-time Pro Bowl lineman with the Washington Redskins, and he knows that collective ability trumps individual talent up front.

"The offensive line is a little bit different as far as the individual goes," Grimm said after Wednesday morning's workout. "You're only as good as the group. You could have four All-Pros, all-everything and taking guys 5, 6 yards off the ball. And if the other guy is not getting the job done, you're not going to move the ball."

The offensive linemen form a clique of behemoths in training camp.

"If you walk into the cafeteria and see 15 ugly oafs all eating at a table together, that's the linemen," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I really like seeing those guys hanging together."

The starting five are together on and off the field.

"It's one of those unique situations where you have five guys who are all like brothers," left tackle Mike Gandy said. "We hang out all the time together. We live together obviously in the preseason and we've been fortunate that nobody's really gotten hurt. When Russ came in, we've got the opportunity to play together for a few years now."

They are not exactly a who's who of NFL linemen:

The 6-foot-4, 316-pound Gandy is an eight-year NFL veteran with a string of 64 straight starts, second on the team only to defensive tackle Darnell Dockett's 65.

At left guard is 6-4, 312-pound Reggie Wells, is a sixth-round draft choice entering his seventh NFL season, all with the Cardinals.

Center Lyle Sendlein, 6-3, 305, is the most unlikely of the group, an undrafted free agent out of Texas in 2007.

At right guard, the Cardinals have 6-4, 338-pound Deuce Lutui, a second-round pick out of USC in 2007.

The right tackle is the only first-round pick of the bunch — 6-5, 324-pound Levi Brown, the fifth choice overall out of Penn State last year.

"Normally your O-line is going to be your closest unit on the team," Wells said, "and I think after what we've been through over the years, the unsuccessful seasons and all the negativity that was thrown our way, it built bonds that made us closer."

The offensive line was long the weakest link of the Cardinals. It was a group that seemed to continually undergo personnel changes before Whisenhunt and Grimm arrived.

"When I was here the first couple of years it seemed like every week we had a different lineup," Warner said, "guys moving from this position to that position. You just can't build any continuity that way. It's hard to work with guys when you don't know exactly how they're going to react."

Warner said he's grown to trust this group.

"The one thing I love about our guys now which we didn't have a few years ago is that they get on the right guy," he said. "With all playmakers, with the way I play, as long as you just get on the right guy — you don't have to maul him, you don't have to drive him into the ground — but if you get in front of him, we'll make plays."

Warner said Grimm has given the linemen the stability and knowledge they need to help the high-power Arizona offense succeed.

"They might bring a crazy blitz and I just think, 'Our guys got it. They'll give me time to get the ball off,'" Warner said. "That's the comfort level that I have with these guys now and you just see them getting better and better. You see them being able to pick up more and more. It's just a huge confidence boost for a quarterback."

Arizona ranked 11th in sacks allowed at 28, but threw 630 passes, second only to New Orleans in the NFL last season.

In four playoff games, the Cardinals allowed five sacks while rolling up 1,493 yards, 1,127 of them threw the air. Warner completed 92 of 135 passes in those games.

Arizona even got its long-dormant ground game going, picking up 366 yards in their four-game run to the Super Bowl.

The linemen are confident they can continue to improve the running game, with the addition of first-round draft pick Beanie Wells — temporarily sidelined with a sprained ankle — to join Tim Hightower at running back.

After all, run blocking is more fun that pass blocking, but these Cardinals know their success comes through the air.

"Definitely as an offensive lineman we enjoy running the ball," Sendlein said, "but Kurt's proven that he can pick apart defenses, so we'll take what the defense will give us."

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