TEMPE, Ariz. — Troy Niklas’ rookie season was hardly notable.
The second-round pick out of Notre Dame, chosen 52nd overall, caught just three passes for 38 yards.
Thought to be a bit raw but very, very talented, the 6-foot-6, 270-pounder battled multiple injuries, starting with a sports hernia and including a broken hand and then, finally, a couple of sprained ankles. Limited to just seven games, he was almost an afterthought.
That’s no longer the case.
Niklas was back on the field Tuesday as the Cardinals began their OTAS (organized team activities), looking nothing like a player who was hampered for most of 2014.
“It’s awesome, I’ve been waiting for this for a while, to get out here,” he said. “It feels good to be healthy and just be in the offense.”
Niklas’ development is one of the more underrated storylines for the team entering the 2015 season. Last season, Arizona tight ends accounted for 50 receptions, 588 yards and one touchdown. While no one is expecting Jimmy Graham-type production from the position, Bruce Arians’ offense generally calls for a bit more out of the group.
With last year’s leader, John Carlson, now retired, the responsibility would seem to fall mostly on the unproven Niklas and Darren Fells.
“I think all of us tight ends are definitely going to have to pick up the slack from John,” Niklas said. “He’s real smart and knew the offense really well. It’s hard to lose a vet like that, so I think all of us are going to have to really step up this spring.”
Asked what he thought of the tight ends after Tuesday’s practice, Arians said, “Damn, they’re tall.”
“They look pretty getting off the bus,” he added. “If anything else, they are pretty getting off the bus.”
The coach was clearly excited about the size the group possesses, with the tallest being 6-foot-7 Ifeanyi Momah and shortest being the 6-foot-3 Gerald Christian. Fells comes in at 6-foot-7.
“They are such big targets, and they can all run,” Arians said. “Troy made a nice catch, Mo made a heck of a good catch one time, and he’s learning every day he’s out there. And Darren, Darren’s like night and day talking, just even talking to him he has so much confidence than the guy that was here last year at this time. He’s playing at an extremely high level right now.”
Carlson’s retirement, which came as a bit of a surprise, opened up a door for the team’s younger players, which Niklas said is exciting. And while there is no track record of success with any of the team’s current crop of tight ends, the team is not lacking talent at the position.
“I think, as a whole, we’re a pretty solid tight end group,” NIklas said. “I look forward to seeing how we can work together better.”
For the 22-year-old NIklas, that starts with staying on the field. After what could be considered a lost season due to injuries, he’s back on the field healthy and ready to work.
“I feel like I’ve got a lot to prove out here,” he said. “I’ve got to get a lot better before the season starts. Still a lot to learn.”