Cardinals left tackle D.J. Humphries is accustomed to going out on the practice field and seeing two players: receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Patrick Peterson.
Both were veterans when Humphries entered the league as a first-round pick in 2015. But now with training camp about to begin at the end of the month, neither are on Arizona’s roster. Peterson signed with the Vikings as a free agent and Fitzgerald is still contemplating whether he’d like to return to the league for an 18th season.
“I haven’t been to a practice in my NFL career before minicamp where I didn’t see Patrick or Larry,” Humphries said in a recent interview with SiriusXM NFL Radio. “So that was something for me that kind of took me back a little bit when I went out there, because I’m used to those guys. I always felt like I was practicing to prove something to those guys and make those guys proud of me because those are my OGs, those are guys that have been here since I’ve been here.”
Entering his seventh season, Humphries is now one of the clear veteran leaders on the roster. And that’s led to a change in his approach as he quipped, “I’ve gotten old real fast.”
“It was definitely a different feeling for me being out there [in the offseason program],” Humphries said. “I had to shift my mindset to be an example instead of trying to impress my OGs in the way that I move and the way that I practice, how I handle myself. It was more so I had to set an example now for the younger cats that’s coming up and watching me. Because when that happened, I didn’t realize how many people were watching me leading up to that, before those guys left. And now that they’re gone, it’s even more magnified.
“So it’s like I have to step into a certain light where I can’t have any downs or slips, I’ve got to do everything right every day, every second. Everything has to be done [right] — every rep’s gotta be game reps because guys are watching and I know that.”
The Cardinals signed some accomplished veterans who can step up when it comes to leadership, like defensive lineman J.J. Watt or cornerback Malcolm Butler. And the club still has edge rusher Chandler Jones. But along with quarterback Kyler Murray and wideout DeAndre Hopkins, Humphries is one of the most critical players on Arizona’s offense. If he steps up and plays well, others should follow.