Every NFL team needs a Mr. Fix-it. He’s the new player you plug in to help strengthen a particular position or unit, the guy who’s been there, done that, and also has the personality to thrive in any locker room.
The Cardinals might have found their Mr. Fix-it in right tackle Eric Winston, the eight-year veteran who has started 105 consecutive games since his rookie season.
Signed two days before the start of training camp
after failing to find big money on the free-agent market, Winston has stepped in and quickly provided stability to an offensive line that has had more than its share of critics.
Not only does he bring experience, toughness, and a passion for the game, he’s a colorful character who was immediately embraced and respected by his teammates.
“We’re happy he’s here,” starting center Lyle Sendlein said. “He’s come in and stepped up big for us right away. He’s got a great sense of humor and he’s fun to be around, but he’s pretty blunt sometimes.”
“Oh, yeah,” agreed rookie guard Jonathan Cooper
. “He’s very vocal and has a huge stature. But he’s very opinionated and he’ll let you know what he thinks very quickly.”
Remind Winston that the Cardinals allowed the most sacks in the league last season (58) and the second-most each of the previous two years (54 and 56), and he’ll tell you exactly what he thinks about that, too.
It means absolutely nothing, according to Mr. Fix-it, and he should know.
The Houston Texans allowed an NFL-high 68 sacks in 2005. The next year, they drafted Winston in the third round out of Miami, plugged him in at starting right tackle halfway through the season, and cut their sacks-against total to 43.
It went down each of his next five years there, helping Houston’s offense finish in the top four in the NFL for three consecutive seasons (2009-11).
“We’re in a new system with a new coach and a lot of other brand new stuff,” Winston said, “so as far as I’m concerned ... we haven’t given up any sacks as a unit. We’re looking to keep it that way, too.”
Coach Bruce Arians hasn’t made anything official when it comes to his starters on the offensive line, though it is assumed Winston and Levin Brown will be the tackles, and Cooper and Daryn Colledge will man the guard spots next to Sendlein.
Those five are building chemistry on and off the field, and it’s essential given Arians’ love for the passing game.
“I don’t think it’s any secret. Everywhere B.A. has been, he’s looking to sling the ball,” Winston said. “Look at the Colts last year. Look at the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger. He wants to get the ball down the field.”
One of the best ways to do that, though, is by establishing the threat of a running game. That way, they can use a passing attack through play action.
“It’s much easier to protect on play-action passes than it is sitting back and sitting back and trying to keep those poor daddies on the outside from getting to the quarterback,” Winston said.
Winston’s helped block for running backs that have produced a combined four 1,000-yard seasons in the NFL. Last season, his only year with the Kansas City Chiefs, his team led the AFC in rushing with 149.7 yards per game.
Run blocking may be his strength, but Winston has more than held his own in pass protection, Arians said. And that’s good, because competition still exists across the line.
“It happens every year,” Winston said.
“A guy is working with the threes (third string), and all of a sudden he’s making a bunch of plays and now he’s with the twos and he’s battling for a spot. Somebody’s going to step up, play well, finish plays down field, make blocks and they’re going to get a chance. You just hope it’s you.”