Arizona Cardinals' D.J. Humphries excited to mentor No. 1 draft pick Paris Johnson Jr.

As the longest-tenured Cardinals’ player on the roster, surely left tackle D.J. Humphries was privately consulted when the team traded back up in this first round of this year’s draft to select Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr.

“No. Hump knew our plan all along,” Cardinals coach Jonathan Gannon said Wednesday.

Meaning, Humphries knew Arizona planned to draft a left tackle?

“Meaning, we were going to take the best person that we could to help our team win,” Gannon replied.

Entering his ninth NFL season with the Cardinals and with three years left on his contract, one would think Humphries wouldn’t be so keen about his team drafting his eventual replacement. Turns out, however, that he’s completely loving it.

Especially now, at least, when Johnson is taking most of his snaps at right tackle, where he could challenge veteran Kelvin Beachum for the starting job there. There’s also a chance Johnson winds up beginning his career at left guard, where there happens to be an opening.

Asked at which position he sees Johnson playing as a rookie, Gannon said, “When’s our first game? That’s when we’ll know.”

Jun 7, 2023; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries (74) during organized team activities at Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic
Jun 7, 2023; Tempe, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals offensive lineman D.J. Humphries (74) during organized team activities at Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-Arizona Republic

“He’s playing outside (right tackle) today,” Gannon continued, “but he’s played both positions (including guard) in college, so he has some versatility. But I think he has what you’re looking for in a starting tackle.”

And yes, Humphries is cool with that, too. He wasn’t taken aback when the Cardinals selected Johnson with the sixth overall pick, making him the highest-drafted tackle since Arizona picked Humphries in the first round back in 2014.

“No. I was excited,” Humphries said. “The reality of football is that they’ve drafted tackles and linemen every year I’ve been here. It’s the NFL. You know what comes with this. I’m not here to be worried about who they drafted. You sit around thinking about who’s being drafted, you need to be working on what you need to be working on to make sure you don’t get put on the bench when they draft that guy.

“When we drafted him, I was excited. I saw him on the field, and I saw what type of player he is, and I was excited because I knew he’s going to be good for our line.”

Humphries and Johnson have hit it off during the team’s series of voluntary offseason workouts, which continues on Thursday before next week’s mandatory minicamp. It’s been a common sight seeing Humphries offer one-on-one advice and showing the rookie the ropes, something he says he never really had back as a rookie.

“I like him a lot,” Humphries said. “He’s a student. He’s not like a young ‘Hump’ that’s kind of like, ‘I got this (expletive) figured out, you guys get out of the way and hold my water.’ He doesn’t have any of that to him. He wants to know, ‘Am I doing this right? How can I do this better? What are you thinking about when you do this?’

“That’s when I met him, like the first practice I was outside doing my thing on the side and he came up to me after that practice and was kind of trying to figure out how I do my thing when I’m taking sets, and what I’m think about it and what I’m looking at. From the jump, he’s always been super-like ‘Hey, help me.’ Like I told him, when I came into the league, it was the complete opposite of helping the young guys.”

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Because of that and the type of leader and mentor Humphries has become over the years, he makes it a point to reach out to every young player he can to offer help and guidance, whether it’s football related or otherwise.

“I always want to make it an environment where you can always lean on me,” he says. “Whatever you need, I’m here. Whether it’s off the field, football, whatever you need, I’m here.”

When Humphries was a rookie, he never dressed for a single game. He felt ostracized. It was a difficult year and it didn’t help matters that he was known mostly for his nickname, “Knee Deep,” a unflattering reference by then-coach Bruce Arians about how far he needed to kick Humphries in the backside to make him a better player.

But that was nearly a decade ago and Humphries is a different person altogether. One thing that never left, though, is his desire to be a good-hearted and kind teammate.

“I ain’t got no hate in my spirit, you know what I mean?” he said. “I’ve never been the guy to hate on guys and don’t want nobody to succeed. I want you to get everything this world’s got for you. If I can help you do that, that’s cool, because I’m going to be in somebody’s Hall of Fame speech like, ‘Man, Hump, he really helped me, man.’ ”

Humphries is back after missing the final nine games of last season with a back injury that nearly required surgery. He only found out three months ago that he’ll be able to play football this season without the need of an operation and that the disc problem he had has healed through rest and rehab.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some roadblocks waiting ahead for Humphries and the Cardinals this upcoming season. With a new front office and coaching staff and a piecemealed roster following a 4-13 year, some big challenges are likely coming in 2023.

For the most part, however, it seems like every player has embraced the new type of culture Gannon is trying to implement. It’s a team-first approach where every person is treated the same and selfishness will not be tolerated.

Some players might not be used to that, but if they haven’t come around yet, they will, according to Humphries.

“Because you’ve got to,” he said. “If you don’t buy in, you’re going to be gone. That’s the mentality. It’s pretty simple. Guys can smell it and it’s very clear. It ain’t a lot of babying and showing favoritism. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to do it; we’ll just get somebody else to do it and you’re just going to be sad about it after.

“Guys are seeing it and they’re understanding it. You either do it or you don’t, but it’s got to get done. You want to be the guy to do it, or do you want to watch this guy do it? It makes it a competition in the way things are because you can tell everything matters. It’s easy for me being an older guy. I love to see it because that’s football, that’s what the NFL is. If you don’t do it right, I’ve got a guy behind you that’s going to do it.”

It's that type of mentality that has made Gannon a huge fan of Humphries. His leadership and vocal skills carry a ton of weight in the locker room.

“Absolutely, 100 percent,” Gannon said. “He’s one of the guys I lean on. That’s what we want to build our team with. And not just our premium players. We want everybody to be like that. There’s a large group of guys in that locker room that produce at a high level, that are about the right things, and that’s why they’re Cardinals.”

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Cardinals' Humphries in mentorship mode with top draft pick Johnson