TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians’ offense requires a tight end who can both block and catch.
Historically that has not been something the Arizona Cardinals have had, though the belief is that has changed.
“There’s great competition; that’s an NFL room right now,” Arians said following an OTA practice last week.
That room consists of veterans Rob Housler, Jake Ballard and John Carlson, along with younger players Troy Niklas, Darren Fells and Andre Hardy.
Each brings something to the table, with perhaps Niklas having the most raw ability. But it is Carlson, at 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, who presents one of the most intriguing packages, given that he can be useful both as a blocker and a receiver.
“We’re asked to do a lot of different things,” he said after a minicamp practice Tuesday. “It’s difficult, it’s challenging. Mentally it’s not easy, but it’s fun. We’ve got a good group of tight ends; I think we can do a lot of different things on the field.”
Housler is known as more of a receiver who, entering his fourth season, may be facing a bit of a “make or break” year. Ballard is much like Carlson in that he’s shown potential but struggled with injuries. Niklas, a second-round pick, has struggled to stay healthy throughout the offseason, which may place him behind the veterans, while Hardy and Fells are just hoping to stick.
All could find a spot with the team, though it’s not likely each will be on the roster when the season begins. The competition is ongoing, but there’s a reason the team signed Carlson to a two-year, $4 million contract in early March.
And so far, he has done nothing to make the team regret that decision.
“John has done a really, really good job,” Arians said Tuesday after the team’s first minicamp. “First of all, he’s extremely bright — he picked up the system extremely quick. He plays full speed all the time and has got outstanding hands. His issue in the past has been he’s not an overwhelming blocker, but he’s more than adequate.”
Though injuries caused much of his luster to wear off, it was just five years ago when Carlson caught 51 passes for 574 yards and seven touchdowns as a member of the Seattle Seahawks. He also spent time with the Minnesota Vikings, though his career there was limited due to various ailments. But he’s healthy right now, adding that the goal is to continue feeling that way.
“We all deal with injuries, I’ve dealt with it in the past,” he said. “I’m not thinking about that. I’m thinking about doing what I can to prepare my body physically right now to mentally understand this offense and do the things I need to do on the field.”
His ability to do so could go a long way toward determining whom Arians turns to at the position. As of now there is no clear-cut starter, meaning the job is very much up for grabs.
“We’ve got six guys in the position group,” Carlson said when asked if it’s a friendly competition. “Every team I’ve been on has been, it’s always competitive — we all want a job, obviously, who doesn’t? But at the same time, we’re supporting and doing everything we can to be as good as we can be.”