TEMPE, Ariz. — To say this is a big offseason for Arizona Cardinals tight end Rob Housler would probably be a bit of an understatement.
The former third-round pick out of Florida Atlantic is entering his fourth NFL season, and up to now has yet to really make good on his enormous amount of potential.
Sure, there have been flashes, and last season Housler posted a career-high 454 receiving yards along with his first NFL touchdown.
But he hasn’t done enough to claim the tight end job for himself, and given the importance of the position in Bruce Arians’ offense, it’s understandable why the team went out and signed John Carlson as well as spent a second-round pick on Troy Niklas. Added to a tight end group that already included Housler, Jake Ballard, Darren Fells and Andre Hardy, the team has a stable of tight ends that could be very effective.
“The tight end competition has been outstanding,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Thursday after the team’s final minicamp practice.
Arians calls it an “NFL room with probably more numbers than we can keep with guys that can actually play.” That means not everyone who is on the roster right now will still be there when the team takes the field against the San Diego Chargers in Week 1.
While Housler is arguably the best receiver of the group, he was drafted by the previous regime and may be facing a make-or-break training camp. With just 96 receptions, 1,004 yards and the one touchdown in his career, he doesn’t have the kind of track record that would guarantee him much of anything.
“There’s always competition in a room, and I mean that in the sense of you’re competing against every tight end in the league,” Housler said.
If the 26-year-old is miffed over the team adding more players at his position, he’s hiding it well. Housler said he’s “delighted” to have everyone, including Carlson and Niklas, on board.
“So far I like the competition,” he said.
The new competition, at least thus far, has been brought in the form of Carlson, a free agent pickup who has battled injuries but caught 177 passes for 1,906 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career. His presence, quarterback Carson Palmer believes, has motivated Housler.
“It’s been phenomenal to have John for a number of reasons, but mainly he’s really pushed that tight end group,” he said. “He’s really brought the best out of Robbie, bringing competition to that spot. He’s really helped Robbie improve and made Robbie improve.”
There were multiple instances during camp when Arians praised Housler’s performance. Whether it’s due to increased competition, comfort in the system or simply the maturation process, the Cardinals will certainly take an improved No. 84.
“I don’t know if it’s extra motivation as far as pushing me to be better,” Housler said of the influx of talent at the position. “But it’s definitely one of those things where the reps go down, the reps are shared, and so you kind of see the fact that you have to be precise in everything you do.
“It’s actually easier this year to be precise at what I’m doing because I’m familiar with it. So you can kind of see both ends of the spectrum and for me it provided a good perspective on everything. It’s been a great minicamp and I welcome John into the room. It’s been a good offseason.”
Housler emerging into a viable threat would be huge for the Cardinals, because players who stand 6-foot-5 and 250-pounds who run like he does can present a real problem for opponents.
And that would in fact appear to be Housler’s greatest advantage. While the team’s other options at the position are capable receivers, none, save for maybe Niklas, offer the raw ability Housler does.
“They all kind of feed off of each other,” Palmer said. “There’s one guy that’s fast, there’s one guy that’s big and powerful, there’s one guy that kind of does it all.
“I think that’s what Coach Arians kind of envisioned at that position — not a bunch of the same guys, but a bunch of different guys.”
It may be a strength, but as Arians said, there are too many players for too few spots. Housler is entering the last year of his rookie contract and not making the kind of money that could lead to the team cutting him for cap space, so it would stand to reason if he can build off his offseason performance and have a good training camp, a roster spot and key role could be his in 2014.
Confident, Housler says he’s improved a lot since the end of last season.
“It’s helped with the development with not only the building a bond with the coaches, the system, but expectations as well,” he said. “So you needed to define your role, and once you have that figured out I think you can excel.”