Throughout virtually their entire stay in the desert, the tight end has been used about as often as Sun Devil Stadium was for playoff games.
Jay Novacek did not become a Pro Bowler until he left for the Dallas Cowboys, Robert Awalt and Johnny McWilliams never amounted to much, and Freddie Jones and Todd Heap proved to be busts as free agent signings.
Sure, every now and then all the talk would be about a renewed emphasis on getting the tight end — whoever it was at the time — more involved in the offense, but all it would end up being is talk.
As is custom, once again there is excitement over the position, but things may be different this time around. After all, the team’s new coach and quarterback like to involve the tight end quite a bit in the offense.
To wit, last season in Oakland, tight end Brandon Myers led the Raiders with 79 receptions, whereas in Arizona four different tight ends combined to make 72 catches.
Rob Housler led the way with 45 receptions for 417 yards, but his impact was minimized for a variety of reasons. That, though, may be about to change.
“I see a wideout playing tight end,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Thursday when asked what he sees in the third-year pro. “A guy that’s very versatile. He can play in the backfield, at tight end, split out wide.
“I think the sky’s the limit as far as where he can get talent-wise, and I really like the way he plays football.”
Originally selected in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft out of Florida Atlantic, Housler’s potential has been tantalizing. A 6-foot-5, 250 pounder with good hands who can run a 4.55 40-yard dash, he would seem to have all the tools to become one of the league’s best pass catchers at the tight end position.
But, inconsistent play — from himself and his quarterbacks — have kept him down. Numerous times over the last couple seasons a wide-open Housler would be missed, with some of the poor throws costing the team points. But now, armed with a new quarterback and new coach, many pundits believe he is ready to break out.
“I wouldn’t say ‘break out,'” Housler said of what he’s expecting this season. “I would just say I’m really looking forward to having a good year and just all-around, from winning games to being successful individually, I’m really thirsty for it and I’m hungry to kind of just go out there and put together a really good season.”
If one consulted a Magic-8 Ball and asked it if Housler is in for a big season, it may very well say “Signs point to yes.”
Because along with Palmer’s propensity to look for his tight ends, Arians’ offense is designed to get them the ball. Heath Miller became a star in Pittsburgh under his watch, and Colts tight ends contributed 73 receptions, 817 yards and five touchdowns last year.
“The more you can do, the more you get featured,” Arians said of Housler.
“Speed, a lot of speed,” quarterback Carson Palmer said of what excites him about Housler. “But he’s not just a fast guy. He runs really good routes, he catches the ball well. He’s done a good job blocking and he’ll continue to work on that.
“Very smart, a really well-rounded player.”
Sounds like Housler can do quite a bit which, according to his coach’s track record as well as his words, means he’ll get featured in the offense.
“Just through OTAs you can see there’s a lot of opportunities, there’s no real set route,” Housler said of what he’s noticed. “You can put a bunch of cogs out there and they can do whatever needs to be done, regardless of what the mismatch may be, that’s what it’s about, creating that mismatch.”
Given his size and skill set, Housler would appear to be a mismatch the team could — and should — utilize quite often. And that may very well be the plan, though as a player with career numbers of just 57 catches for 550 yards with no touchdowns, the 25-year-old still has plenty to prove.
But like most young players, he’s undergone a growing process during his time in the NFL. And though the team’s new coach and quarterback would indicate things are looking up for his role in the offense, Housler noted there are no guarantees.
“I don’t think you really know what’s going to be used until you find out what’s successful, so it’s my job to make sure that we’re successful in throwing to tight ends and completing balls,” he said. “So it’s really up to me.”