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The Arizona Cardinals are signing a Will that likely won’t slap anyone in the face on the big stage, but could throw around his weight at an important position.
The team hopes that reuniting guard Will Hernandez with his college coach, Sean Kugler, can bolster an offensive line that ranked in the middle of the pack last season. On Monday, the Cards signed the former 2018 NFL Draft darling (No. 34 overall) to a one-year contract.
Hernandez is known as an SOB between the lines and has a nasty demeanor on the field. We’re still betting he doesn’t slap anyone, though.
Kugler, the Cardinals run game coordinator and offensive line coach, coached Hernandez at UTEP from 2014 to 2017. Hernandez was a two-time All-American while starring for the Miners.
The two went in different directions out of El Paso when Kugler resigned after an 18-36 tenure. After struggling in the college ranks as a head coach, Kugler rediscovered success as an offensive line coach at the NFL level, and Hernandez went from NFL Draft sleeper to bust.
After Hernandez lit up Senior Bowl practices and put up a grown-man-strong 37 bench press reps at the NFL Scouting Combine, the New York Giants selected him early in the second round. The Giants received high draft grades for the pick. Hernandez followed up the high praise with a solid rookie season and looked like an offensive line cornerstone.
It was downhill after that, and Hernandez became a frustrating player from 2019 to 2021. He lost his starting job in 2020 to fifth-round pick Shane Lemieux. He ended his four-year stint with the Giants allowing 15 sacks and 121 pressures.
The 26-year-old is confident, however, that reuniting with his college coach will get him back to playing at a high level. During his introductory news conference at the Cardinals’ facility in Tempe, Hernandez said Kugler was one of the main reasons he was in the NFL.
“Being able to reunite with him (Sean Kugler) and being able to get coached up under him again is only going to help. I feel like we’re only going to bring out the best in each of us.”Will Hernandez
The prospect of Hernandez turning back the clock should excite Cardinals fans. The team is returning four of its five starting offensive linemen, and the former 34th overall pick could shore up the void at right guard while picking up his old coach’s blocking schemes.
Getting him back with Kugler could be what the doctor ordered. Hernandez had four different position coaches in his Giants tenure.
Hernandez has only missed three games in his four-year NFL career, which was due to COVID-19 and not an injury.
He grades far better in pass blocking than in run blocking, and he has struggled to pick up stunts from opposing defenders during his career. The addition and hopeful development of Hernandez and the return of Justin Pugh, another former Giant, might remedy the interior pressure from opposing defenses that wrecked the Cardinals down the stretch in 2021.
Another area where Hernandez struggled last season that the Cardinals hope was a fluke was false-start penalties. Arizona led the NFL with 28 false starts last season, including a team-worst five from second-year player Josh Jones. Hernandez was flagged a career-high four times for false starts in 17 games. Before that, he jumped only once in his first 45 games.
The signing likely means that Jones will be a backup next season after starting in 12 games in 2021. The third-round pick can potentially focus on his natural tackle position and might be in line for a starting role in 2023. Both starting left tackle D.J. Humphries and right tackle Kelvin Beachum are in the final season of their contracts.
Veteran Justin Murray is under contract and could add depth to the O-line.
Hernandez also grew up in nearby Las Vegas, adding even more comfort for the veteran entering his fifth season. If he can recapture some of that pre-draft magic with Kugler, it would answer a big question on the Cardinals’ offensive line in 2022.
Listen to Johnny Venerable and me break down the Cards’ signing on Monday’s PHNX Arizona Cardinals podcast. Subscribe and if you like what you hear, leave a five-star rating.