The Arizona Cardinals' offensive line, one of the team's primary negative issues over the last few seasons, took a major and unfortunate hit in the team's 24-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers Saturday night. Guard Jonathan Cooper, Arizona's first-round pick in the 2013 draft, suffered a fractured left leg and could be out for his entire rookie season, head coach Bruce Arians said after the game. Darren Urban of the team's official site reports that Arians hopes Cooper can return late this season, but a final diagnosis is unknown at this time. Guard Chilo Rachal replaced Cooper in the game.
“We can correct the way we played,” Arians said of his team's sloppy performance. “We can’t correct the injuries.”
The injury occurred with 9:27 left in the third quarter. Cooper was blocking upfield when San Diego linebacker Frank Beltre was blocked into his leg. He could not put any weight on the leg after the play was over, and he had to be carted off the field.
The athletic guard from North Carolina held out until late July, when he signed a four-year, $14.55 million contract that is fully guaranteed. He often played at 285 or 290 pounds in college, which spoke to his athleticism, but he's proven to be a well-schooled power guard as well.
"I’d say I’m a combination of power and athleticism," he said at the 2013 scouting combine. "I can, especially with the addition of weight, I can run power. You can look at it from my first three years of film where we’re a pro-style offense where power was our staple play. And then this year it really showed my athletic ability, getting out in space. We ran a bunch of screens and a lot of things where I was on the second and third level getting on linebackers and defensive backs and such."
The Cardinals were hoping that Cooper would lead the charge -- and change -- in a line that ranked dead last in the league in Football Outsiders' Adjusted Line Yards metrics in 2012, and 26th in its Adjusted Sack Rate stats. Arians and general manager Steve Keim understood the importance of protecting newly-acquired quarterback Carson Palmer. Daryn Colledge, who started all 16 games at left guard for Arizona in 2012, allowed 4.5 sacks, blew 13 blocks in pass protection, and amassed seven penalties.
“I’m not taking anything off the table yet, but right now, I’m the right guard,” Colledge, who has moved over to the right side, said after the game. “Chilo stepped in and played and we scored a touchdown (a 16-yard pass from Palmer to Michael Floyd). I would assume tomorrow he’s the left guard but I’d also assume that it’s an open competition between him and every other guard available.”
Problem is, "every other guard available" isn't Jonathan Cooper -- and the Cardinals are about to find that out the hard way.