GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Cardinals have lost starting center A.Q. Shipley for the season with a torn right ACL and will replace him with rookie Mason Cole.
Coach Steve Wilks confirmed the injury Monday, saying the center "heard something pop" in his knee during a goal-line drill in training camp on Saturday.
Shipley, a six-year NFL veteran, started all 16 games each of the past two seasons, the only member of the Cardinals offensive line to play every game either year. Wilks called him "a tremendous leader and hard worker."
"When you talk about the DNA that I look for, a guy that loves the game, very passionate, gritty," Wilks said. "He really was the leader up front."
Shipley signed with Arizona as a free agent in 2015, working his way to a starting role after bouncing around the NFL early in his career.
"Coach (offensive coordinator Mike) McCoy said it best," right guard Justin Pugh said. "He's the heartbeat of the offensive line. So it's' definitely tough news to hear and knowing everything he's been through in his career."
The 6-foot-5, 307-pound Cole is a third-round draft pick out of Michigan, where he was a four-year starter but only one — his junior year — was at center.
The Cardinals, though, drafted him as a center and he's been working at that position through the offseason.
"I learned a lot from him (Shipley) my first few months of being here and still will learn a lot from him," Cole said, "but I'm confident I can fill in and hopefully play as good as he has."
Shipley was drafted in the seventh round out of Penn State by Pittsburgh in 2009 but didn't make an active roster until 2012, when he was promoted from the practice squad by Indianapolis. He played two seasons for the Colts, sandwiched around one year with Baltimore.
He wasn't regarded as one of the top centers around the NFL but inside the Cardinals organization, his worth has been considerable.
"I didn't watch much Cardinals football last year, obviously," said Pugh, who came to Arizona after five seasons with the New York Giants. "You get in this building and you realize who runs things and who does things the right way and A.Q. is one of those guys."
Wilks said he watched video of Shipley's injury "12 or 15 times."
"I really couldn't see anything malicious or anybody that fell into his leg," he said. "I think it really just got caught up in the turf and he was engaged and he said he heard it pop."
Shipley was able to walk off the field but was carted from there to the locker room, a towel draped over his head.
Cole started all 51 games at Michigan after arriving on campus, tying a school record.
"I played early in college and I think that helps me in situations like this," he said, "but also coming from Michigan and (coach Jim) Harbaugh's staff and Harbaugh's offense, I think that gives me a little upper hand here, too, just in terms of learning the offense and knowing what to do."
As center, Cole will be responsible for making the offensive line play calls.
"Mentally is going to be the biggest challenge," Pugh said. "For me (coming into the NFL) it was more physical because I was out there playing tackle. Obviously I had to know the playbook, know what I had to do. The center's got to know what everyone has to do."
Pugh said he and the other linemen will help Cole, as will veteran quarterback Sam Bradford.
Serious injury is always lurking around the corner in the NFL.
"It's an evil of this game that you don't want to see happen and when it happens to one of your leaders it definitely hurts," Pugh said, "but we've got to rally behind the guys that are out there."
Evan Boehm and Daniel Munyer will be the backups to Cole. Both also play guard. Boehm was drafted in the fourth round out of Missouri in 2016. Munyer, an undrafted free agent out of Colorado in 2016, played 10 offensive snaps against Dallas and was active for four other games — but did not play — before his season ended with a toe injury in early November.
The Cardinals also will look for possible help from unsigned players or those released by other teams in the coming weeks.
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