Undrafted rookie gets hometown start at center for Arizona
TEMPE, Ariz. - The young line of the Arizona Cardinals just got a lot younger.
Lyle Sendlein, an undrafted rookie who grew up in nearby Scottsdale, will start at center against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, replacing the injured Al Johnson.
He joins first-round draft pick Levi Brown, who starts at right tackle. Between them is second-year guard Deuce Lutui.
"Anytime you have young linemen, and the whole right side of our line is young, you're going to have some things that come up, especially when you're playing a veteran team," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "But these guys are here to compete. They'll show up, and I expect to have success with them in there."
Whisenhunt said he saw something in Sendlein during training camp drills and in preseason games.
"When he got in the games he seemed to play with some presence, have some calmness about him that's not indicative of a rookie," the coach said. "I felt that he's shown he's going to be a good player in this league. That was pretty apparent early."
Backup Nick Leckey already was sidelined with a sprained knee when Johnson went down with the same injury in Monday night's 20-17 loss at San Francisco. Suddenly, Sendlein was in the game.
"I thought I played pretty well," he said after practice on Wednesday. "I was just trying to keep the communication good between everybody. That's what I'm going to work on this week, try to get that right for Sunday."
The Cardinals signed center Chukky Okobi, a backup at Pittsburgh when Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator and Arizona assistant Russ Grimm was offensive line coach there.
But the starter is the big 23-year-old from Scottsdale.
Sendlein had 26 consecutive starts for Texas, and played in 49 games for the Longhorns. That's made the transition to the NFL easier.
"When you come from a program that's had a lot of success, a national championship, that's won some big games, you're going against some of the best players in the country, and that's what the NFL is," Whisenhunt said. "So from that standpoint, he has been tested."
Sendlein said he hasn't had time to get nervous or reflect on his unexpectedly quick rise to a starter in the NFL.
"If I had time to think about it, maybe I'd have an answer for you," he said, "but it's all happened so quick you don't have time to react."
The 6-foot-4, 300-pound center said he got several calls on draft day to sign as a free agent. He said he chose the Cardinals, not because it's so close to home, but because of the presence of Whisenhunt and Grimm.
"I liked Arizona because I think the organization is going in the right direction with the new coaching staff," he said. "I think the coaches are phenomenal. I wanted to surround myself with a winning staff."
He used being bypassed in the draft as motivation.
"There's a lot of players who are playing right now that were not drafted," Sendlein said. "It just made me work that much harder. No one really wanted me, so I felt like I'd have to work that much harder to get on a team."
That ethic comes from his father, Robin, a linebacker who played eight seasons in the NFL for Minnesota, Miami and Houston. He followed his father's path to Texas.
"I just do what my father taught me to do from Pop Warner," he said, "play every play like it's your last. I've always been taught to play smart, hard, physical football. That's what I try to do."