GLENDALE, Ariz. – Knock on wood.
It’s a subject Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians would prefer not to talk about: Troy Niklas’ health.
Thus far in training camp, Niklas, a third-year tight end, has started and finished each of the 10 practices. That hasn’t always been the case.
As a rookie, a broken hand in OTAs limited at the start of camp. Then, last season, he opened camp on the physically unable to perform list after offseason ankle surgery and a subsequent hamstring injury suffered while working out.
This season — knock on wood — nothing.
“It’s been the best,” Niklas said, referring to his health. “Nothing is worse than going to camp and not being able to practice, so I’m just so thankful to be out there every day and be with the guys and just continue to develop as a player.”
In two seasons, Niklas has caught seven passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns, both of which were scored last season in Week 11 at Cleveland. He has played in 23 games, with four starts.
The Cardinals chose Niklas with the 52nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, making him their highest drafted tight end since 1989, when the team chose Auburn’s Walter Reeves with the 40th selection.
“He’s made a really nice move. He’s looking like the player we drafted and wanted,” Arians said. “He had all those injuries and had bad luck — and knock on wood I didn’t jinx him. He’s where I want him to be right now. He’s blocking extremely well, catching the ball well; understands what he’s trying to do much better.”
Told of Arians’ comments, Niklas displayed a large smile.
“To hear a compliment from a coach like B.A., it means a lot. It means I’m stepping in the right direction,” he said. “That was nice of him to say, and I look forward to continuing to improve.”
Arians isn’t the only one who Niklas has impressed in camp.
“First, maturity and I don’t mean that in a negative way,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “I just think he’s matured into the position of tight end. He was an ex-defensive player that moved to tight end, and he’s just such a specimen, kind of, where do you put him? But he’s found a home at tight end. He’s really come along. He understands his assignments. He catches the ball. He’s such a big target you can kind of throw the ball anywhere and he can kind of box guys out and use his body. He’s made strides in using his body and getting his body in-between the ball and defender. But I don’t think he’s hit a ceiling. I think he’s just going to continue to develop. He’s had some bad luck injury-wise, and he’s finally been healthy. The longer he stays healthy, the better and better he gets.”
Listed at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, Niklas is still early in his development. He began his career at Notre Dame as a linebacker, before making the switch to tight end as a sophomore. A year later, Niklas was named a semifinalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation’s top tight end.
Niklas, who turns 24 next month, has also been working on his long snapping here in camp because “you can only dress one snapper, so you have to have another guy ready just in case,” according to Arians.
Offensive linemen Evan Boehm and Earl Watford, plus defensive tackle Josh Mauro, have also been spotted long snapping post-practice.
Niklas said his only experience snapping the football came while he was growing up “just kind of messing around with friends. I wouldn’t say I’m quite at Mike Leach’s level, but I might be halfway there” referring to the Cardinals’ recently-retired long snapper.
“As they say everyone can snap, so I’m just trying to add something to my repertoire,” he added, smiling.
Of course, the key for Niklas to keep smiling — knock on wood — is to remain healthy.
“Don’t, you’re trying to jinx him,” Arians said.
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