GLENDALE, Ariz. — Troy Niklas has just a handful of practices under his belt since being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.
First, it was a sports hernia that kept him off the field. Then, a broken right hand did him in.
The second-round pick out of Notre Dame was back on the field Saturday for the first day of training camp, and in one sequence was promptly hit in the side of the helmet by a pass from fellow rookie Logan Thomas.
“I think he probably threw it a little quick. I didn’t get my head around fast enough,” Niklas said Sunday. “(He’s) trying to give people concussions out there, you know.”
The last statement was said with a chuckle, as the pass off the helmet was little more than something that can be laughed about now.
But at some point, Niklas needs to start catching passes and making plays. He’s part of a very deep group of tight ends, and his offseason ailments did nothing to help his chances of earning playing time.
“He’s way behind,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “You just can’t miss that kind of time as a rookie and then try to catch up not only to the assignments, but the speed of the game. But he’ll be fine.”
The 6-foot-6, 270-pound Niklas is still a bit of an unknown entity — and not just because he’s missed time due to injuries. He converted from defense to tight end in college and left for the NFL with just 37 catches, 573 yards and six touchdowns to his name.
He’s not exactly your standard rookie tight end, and every day missed was a lost opportunity to get a firmer grasp on the position.
“I wouldn’t say I feel super far behind,” Niklas said. “I stayed in my (play)book, and I studied a lot, prepared a lot for camp. I felt like I knew what I was doing [Saturday] and it’s just about doing it now, getting comfortable with the offense.”
Niklas added that he’ll be wearing a soft cast to protect his hand for another week and a half, and until it comes off, he’ll have to “figure out how catch balls with it.”
The Cardinals selected Niklas 52nd overall because he offers a tantalizing package as both a receiver and blocker. Just 21 years old and having missed a lot of practice, he has his work cut out for him if he’s to carve out a key role in the offense. Niklas watched and learned from veterans Rob Housler, John Carlson and Jake Ballard while he was on the sideline, and he’s hoping to incorporate what he saw into his own game.
But as for passing those veterans on the depth chart, that’s not something he’s too concerned with at the moment.
“I’m just going to go out there and try as hard as I can every day and see where I end up,” he said.