Every stop along his long-winding road to Arizona, Bruce Arians has favored an offensive scheme that highlights the tight end position.
During his two stints in Indianapolis (1998-2000 as the quarterbacks’ coach and 2012 as the offensive coordinator/interim head coach), the Colts often employed two tight end sets with the likes of Marcus Pollard, Ken Dilger, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen.
While Arians was in Cleveland as the Browns’ offensive coordinator from 2001-03, eight different tight ends — Mark Campbell, O.J. Santiago, Mike Sellers, Ricky Dudley, Steve Heiden, Kevin Heinrich, Aaron Shea and Darnell Sanders — made multiple starts.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offensive coordinator from 2007-11, Arians helped Heath Miller grow into one of the league’s elite tight ends.
During that five-year span, Miller caught 264 passes for 3,012 yards and 20 touchdowns. The tight end out of Virginia was also selected to the first of his two Pro Bowls in 2010.
Suffice it to say, Arians, who also spent a year as the New Orleans Saints tight ends coach in 1996, has an affinity for the position.
However, that affinity rarely surfaced during the first eight games of his head coaching tenure with the Arizona Cardinals.
Whether because of injury, a lack of production or a need for added protection along the line, Cardinals tight ends were rarely featured in the team’s aerial attack over the first half of the 2013 campaign.
In fact, on only 36 targets, Rob Housler and Jim Dray combined to catch 26 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown.
But on Sunday, the script changed just a bit.
In the Cardinals’ 27-24 victory over the Houston Texans at University of Phoenix Stadium, Housler, Dray and newly-signed Jack Ballard recorded six catches for 81 yards, including Housler’s first career touchdown reception.
“Rob Housler, if anything [his performance against Houston] may give him some confidence,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim told Arizona Sports 620’s Doug & Wolf. “He’s a guy who we’ve talked about time and time again that he’s a talented player who can run and stretch the seam, but just hasn’t been able to put it all together.
“Yesterday was a step in the right direction. Moving forward maybe it gives him some confidence.”
While Housler’s day was encouraging, Keim noted that the biggest takeaway from the win was the way in which Arians was finally able to use all of his tight ends in the passing game.
“The nice thing after watching the tape this morning, there were times where we played three tight ends at the same time,” said Keim. “Jake Ballard did a nice job at the point of attack, blocking as well as that big catch he had for the first down.
“Competition is always good at that position. Any time you can bring in additional players that push the starters, I think that’s a positive quality to have.”