Sometimes decisions that appear minor when they occur take on greater importance when it matters most.
That was surely the case with Cardinals offensive lineman Max Garcia. A guard throughout his career with the Denver Broncos and then in Arizona, offensive line coach/run-game coordinator Sean Kugler opted to also have Garcia be a center in the offseason.
Since halftime of the Week 3 game against Jacksonville, Garcia has played right guard and then became the center when Rodney Hudson suffered injured ribs in Week 5 against San Francisco.
Explained Kugler, “We went into the season, and we wanted to upgrade the physicality at center. And that's the No. 1 reason we brought Rodney in. Well, Max is a very physical player as well. So the decision was made before camp to exclusively play him at center, and then have him available to play guard as well. And he embraced it.”
When Garcia spoke to the media recently, he mentioned how much he’d learned about the position from Hudson, surely not knowing he’d be soon called upon to play there.
“He learned a lot from Rodney,” Kugler acknowledged. “What a better teacher to have, the best center in the league, in my mind, teaching you every day. And he's really accepted that role, and it's made him become a much better player. So I'm very happy for Max Garcia, and he's going to continue to do a great job. And he'll continue to play.”
Asked how well Garcia has done, Kugler said, “He's been outstanding at guard. And when we asked him to play guard, he came in against Jacksonville, he ended up starting the game against the Rams at guard. And then when Rodney went down vs San Francisco, he played half the game at center and then he started this past game. So he's invaluable to us.
“Really feel excited for him because it's been a while since he played with that ACL. He overcame a lot to come back and the fact that he's out there; couldn't be prouder of the guy. The room loves this guy. They rally around him. He's as tough as they come and he's stepped in and we haven't missed a beat.”
Meanwhile, when Kugler was called upon to be the co-head coach with defensive coordinator Vance Joseph against the Browns because head coach Kliff Kingsbury was absent because of a positive COVID-19 test, Hudson made the trip to Cleveland to help any way he could.
“Rodney's a leader,” Kugler said. “He sensed that the team at that point needed him. And I love having Rodney around. But the thought process was to have him heal up and not travel with his ribs. But he decided to come in and be a part of the process. Rodney was outstanding after each series. After I was through visiting with the linemen, he would sit down with Max and kind of give him his view of what he saw and he was very beneficial throughout the game. We can't wait until Rodney gets back, but he's a leader even when he's not out on the field.”
Kugler emphasized that Hudson isn’t the only leader on the line. He said, “I love the room, coaching with Coach (Brian) Natkin (assistant line coach). We got several leaders in there. D.J. Humphries, Justin Pugh, Kelvin Beachum, and those guys are all leaders. We've got some young players that are learning how to be pros, and they couldn't have better teachers than those guys. So we have a collective group of leaders. And as a coach, that's fun to have.”
The group is a solid mixture of veterans and young players, so Kugler was asked if has had a similar sentiment for other teams he’s coached.
He said, “When I coached in Pittsburgh, that group had that type of culture. And they believed in each other. But really since then, this has been the most tight-knit group that I've ever been around. In fact, this is the most tight-knit offensive line group that I've ever been around. These guys go to dinner. They go to dinner with (quarterback) Kyler (Murray) every week and the quarterbacks.
“They hang out together off the field. They enjoy each other. If you were in our room, (you’d see) we get our work done, but these guys have a good time with each other. So, as a coach, I couldn't be in a more enjoyable situation.”
Kugler did note he’s been with other teams where the quarterbacks join the linemen consistently for dinner. He also joked there might be a good reason for that.
“They probably want Kyler to go so he can pay the tab,” Kugler said.