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9:27 AM Sun, Oct. 21st

Cardinals’ Iupati motivated, impressive this preseason

NFL

Arizona Cardinals offensive guard Mike Iupati (76) blocks defensive tackle Corey Peters, right, during an NFL football practice Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Glendale. (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

Arizona Cardinals offensive guard Mike Iupati (76) blocks defensive tackle Corey Peters, right, during an NFL football practice Monday, Aug. 13, 2018, in Glendale. (Ross D. Franklin/AP Photo)

TEMPE — Even stronger than usual and in the best of health, Arizona Cardinals guard Mike Iupati is mowing down everything in front of him this preseason.

“I’m just playing ball,” the 6-foot-5, 331-pound left guard said after the team practiced in the heat Monday.

“Taking that year off makes you appreciate football, made my body feel young again.”

A triceps injury in the opener wiped out the rest of the 2017 season for Iupati.

In the offseason, as he entered the fourth year of a five-year, $40 million contract he signed with Arizona, Iupati agreed to a $3 million pay cut to come back for what under the new deal could be his final season in the desert. He will earn $5 million this year.

“I just figured it was better than going somewhere else to start new,” he said. “I’m starting new here.”

And so far Iupati seems to love the physical, run-oriented offense installed by new coach Steve Wilks and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.

Pro Football Focus gave Iupati a 97.2 rating for his 31 snaps in Arizona’s two preseasons game. That made him the NFL’s highest-rated player this preseason.

“The man is playing about as good as anyone I’ve seen play up front,” quarterback Sam Bradford said.

“This camp, just watching him play, it’s been pretty impressive both in the run game and the pass game. He just seems to be kind of swallowing guys up out there.”

Left tackle D.J. Humphries sees Iupati at work up close. This is, Humphries reminds people, a player who has been to four Pro Bowls.

But injuries have kept Humphries and Iupati from playing together much, and Humphries loves what he’s seeing.

While Iupati is a quiet guy who rarely says much, Humphries said he’s seen the big guard explode with emotion on the field this preseason.

“I can look over and see that dude pumped about whoopin’ somebody, seeing him beating his chest for the first time on the grass, with me beside him, it gives me chills,” Humphries said. “It’s a scary feeling to see that dude — as calm, cool and collected as he is (normally) — out of his mind on the field. The first time I’ve ever seen him like that.”

The first team’s offensive line play probably has been the most impressive thing about the Cardinals in their first two preseason games.

Newcomers Justin Pugh and Andre Smith are at right guard and right tackle, respectively. Starting center A.Q. Shipley went down with a season-ending knee injury before the first preseason game, but rookie Mason Cole has filled in well.

Iupati calls the line “awesome.”

“We’re doing good, just communicating with each other and having fun,” he said.

Wilks calls the offensive line the strength of the team.

“I think they’ve proven that the way they performed in the first two games, particularly the Ones, coming off the ball and creating a new line of scrimmage,” he said. “I think they’ve accepted the challenge and they’ve taken a lot of pride in that.”

Iupati, 31, is entering his ninth NFL season.

The first five were with San Francisco, where he was a first-round draft pick — the 17th selection overall — out of Idaho in 2010.

He started 75 regular-season games and eight postseason contests for the 49ers before signing as a free agent with the Cardinals in 2015.

He has said he wants to play in the league for 10 years and he’s showing lately that he still can be an elite blocker.

As usual, his reaction came in just a few words.

“I’m doing it for my family and my teammates,” he said. “I’m just out there working to get better.”

Notes: General manager Steve Keim’s five-week suspension by the team for a DUI arrest is up Tuesday. There was no word officially on whether he will be back. ... The Cardinals have Tuesday off, then practice each of the next three days. They play at Dallas on Sunday night.