GLENDALE, Ariz. — After Jermaine Gresham, the Arizona Cardinals’ tight end room is filled with youth, potential and intrigue.
Perhaps no player embodies more of that than Ifeanyi Momah, who came to the Cardinals on a one-year deal following an impressive showing at the NFL Veterans Combine in March.
At 6-foot-7 and 255-pounds, he has incredible size, and as a former wide receiver at Boston College, you know he has good hands.
What he doesn’t have is much of a track record.
Momah caught just 39 passes for 629 yards and six touchdowns as a wide receiver in college. His senior season was cut short due to a torn ACL after he had amassed 171 yards on eight catches in a loss to Northwestern. As a pro, Momah bounced around from the Philadelphia Eagles to the Cleveland Browns, and from the Browns to the Detroit Lions.
Now, he’s trying to earn a spot with the Cardinals.
“Every day is different, a lot of ups and downs, I’d say,” Momah said Wednesday when asked how things are going for him. “I’d say today was more on the downside. I got a lot of reps and busted my butt, but some plays didn’t come up like I wanted to, but that’s practice. Got to come back out here the next day, try to get better and get ready for these games, that’s what really matters.
“Get ready for the games. Play well in the games.”
The games may be where Momah’s combination of size and speed really shows itself. Until then all the 25-year-old can do is continue to learn his new position while trying to impress a coaching staff that has shown a willingness to play younger players as long as they can produce.
And early in camp, Momah — along with a few of the team’s other young tight ends — has gotten a great opportunity, as both Gresham and second-year pro Troy Niklas have been sidelined with injuries. That’s left more reps for the rest of the group, which also includes Darren Fells, Gerald Christian, Ted Bolser and Gannon Sinclair.
With so many players to compete with and precious reps with which to impress the coaches, it would make sense if Momah lived and died with each chance — after all, his career very well might.
Yet, he does not approach things that way.
“You can’t put pressure on it or else you’re going to stress your life away,” he said. “Honestly, it’s just take one day, one step at a time. Play to the best of your abilities and turn that stuff off and play ball. Can’t think about anything else.”
His roster spot anything but secure, Momah has stood out since OTAs and minicamp. However, as Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians likes to say, those practices are more like soccer, with no pads and very little contact.
Training camp is different, and where jobs are won or lost.
“He’s stuck his face in there pretty good, had a couple of nice blocks [Tuesday],” Arians said. “That was the thing we all wanted to see because he was one hell of a player in FIFA. He was like the all-star FIFA player. Now he’s a pretty good football player.”
While things are going well now, Momah knows he has plenty to work on to stick in the NFL. He says speed is his greatest attribute — and that has been on display at times during camp — but added he must get better at blocking, as it’s a key part of his new position.
“I’ve got to get used to the techniques and learning that stuff,” he said. “I’m still learning every day, of course, so I would say that’s the thing I can improve on right now.”
If he can get better quickly, Momah’s combination of size and speed could very easily present a mismatch for opposing defenses. Already in camp, there have been instances of Cardinals quarterbacks being able to throw over the top of trailing linebackers to the bigger Momah, which is the mismatch he knows is there for him. Now, it’s about taking advantage of those opportunities.
“I had a couple [Wednesday] that I didn’t get to take full advantage of, I was pissed during the practice,” he said. “But we’ll go back, watch the film and learn from it, and make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s all you can do.”
Though Momah may be a relative unknown, there are some out there who see big things in his future. CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco referred to him in a tweetas a “sleeper TE,” and told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Wednesday morning that some with the Cardinals think he could emerge as a “40-catch guy.”
Momah said he can’t think of predictions like that. If all goes according to plan, he said he’d haul in more than 40 catches.
“If all goes according to plan, then I’ll have the most catches on this team, that’s the plan I set for myself, the goal I set for myself,” he said. “Realistically, I’m just trying to get out there and play every day, every down best that I can, one practice at a time, so I can set myself up for the regular season.”
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