The Cardinals’ most high-profile starting position battle has been decided.
Veteran A.Q. Shipley has won the job as the starting center, beating out Mason Cole. Shipley, 33, tore his ACL last preseason and missed the entire year, paving the way for Cole to start every game at center as a rookie.
Shipley seemed like the favorite once Cole was moved to first-team left guard to fill in for an injured Justin Pugh in training camp. Pugh has since returned, making Cole a Swiss Army knife backup beginning in Week 1.
“We feel like Mason is very valuable at a number of positions, whether it’s center or guard,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “He can get us through a game at tackle, even. He’s maybe the most valuable O-lineman we have.”
Cole has played in every game of his career dating all the way back to his freshman season of high school, and earlier this week said it would be weird not to play. However, he understood the situation and was prepared to be a reserve if needed.
“My whole process in football has been, ‘What can I do to help the team?’” Cole said Tuesday. “If that’s being the sixth man this year, filling in when guys go down, then I’m ready for it.”
CRABTREE’S STATUS FOR SEASON OPENER UP IN THE AIR
Veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree warmed up with the Cardinals before Thursday’s game in Denver but did not play.
Kingsbury is unsure if he will be up to speed enough to play in the opener next Sunday against the Lions.
“We like what we’re seeing so far, but that’s a lot of install and a lot of information to cram into a couple weeks – and condition and all those things,” Kingsbury said. “But he’s a pro’s pro. He’s very anxious. I don’t have an answer for you yet. We’ll have to get into the week and see where he’s at.”
The Cardinals’ other outside receiver options could be KeeSean Johnson, Damiere Byrd and Trent Sherfield, depending on how the roster shakes out after cuts this weekend.
Johnson was a sixth-round pick in April’s draft but turned heads quickly, and Kingsbury envisions a role for him immediately.
“Every time the ball comes his way, he seems to catch it,” Kingsbury said. “He’s a guy we talked about through camp, just his route-running ability, and how natural he is at snatching the ball and separating. It’s been impressive, and I think he’s just going to get better and better.”