Arizona Cardinals offensive line coach Sean Kugler helped then-rookie center Mason Cole navigate a seemingly impossible task in 2018.
After projected starter A.Q. Shipley tore his ACL during training camp in August, Cole was elevated to the first team and started all 16 games.
Last season, Cole got the — as they say in college football — redshirt year during which he needed to spend more time training and getting adjusted to the NFL. Still, he played in all 16 games and made two starts at guard, so it is quite different than a traditional college redshirt. In essence, Cole was beaten out by Shipley once he returned to full health and had to settle for a reserve role last season.
He does not look at it negatively, however.
"I always respect (Kugler)," Cole said. "He's never afraid to have a conversation with you, whether it be good or bad ... Even going into last year when he told me that I wasn't starting. He called me and said the same thing."
The development that Cole has seen within himself has led to the trust that he has subsequently put in his position coach.
"I credit (Kugler) for helping me a lot," he said. "Even in this past year, I think I made the biggest jump technique-wise and performance-wise that I probably made in my whole career. I think the big thing with him is, he's always going to push us to work. In Week 16, we're working the same way that we were in Week 1 in individuals. And we're working on technique and every week we're technique-specific for the kind of defense we're playing. I think that's been huge for us as an o-line and me personally."
With a majority of continuity along the Cardinals offensive line entering the 2020 season — save for the switch back to Cole at center with Shipley still unsigned as an unrestricted free agent — Cole is confident in what the unit can do. Another year under Kugler with predominantly familiar faces will only serve to benefit them, in their minds.
"I think we made a whole lot of progress from from Week 1 to Week 16," Cole said. "Not only us as an o-line, but as an offense too. I thought as the year went on, we protected a lot better, we ran the ball way better and the things we were doing on offense, we kind of found our way. It seemed like maybe the first three or four games, maybe six games, we were trying to figure out what we were going to be. What our identity was going to be. And as we started to find that, we started to really click. I think that's huge, huge for momentum going into Year 2. And again, with a lot of the same guys in the room, I think that's even bigger."