TEMPE, Ariz. — When the Arizona Cardinals used the 52nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on Notre Dame tight end Troy Niklas, some eyebrows were raised.
Though the 6-foot-6, 270-pound player had obvious talent, there were some who felt the team had greater needs and perhaps should have gone a different direction than the physically imposing but still raw player.
After all, having shifted from the defensive side of the ball while in college, Niklas entered the NFL with just 37 receptions for 573 yards and six touchdowns on his résumé.
Eight weeks and seven games into his rookie season, the returns on Arizona’s investment are still very much incomplete. Offseason sports hernia surgery limited what he could do shortly after being drafted, a broken hand suffered early in OTAs kept him out until training camp, and a high ankle sprain he sustained in a Week 5 loss to Denver sent him to the sideline for another three weeks.
Last week, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians did not hold anything back with regards to how imperative it was for Niklas to get past the ankle injury and start practicing again.
“He’s a damn tackle, he ain’t no wide receiver,” he said. “He doesn’t need to be worrying about making cuts, so he better have his ass back on the practice field next week.”
Niklas was back on the practice field Wednesday, albeit in a “limited” capacity.
“Yeah, finally,” he said before taking the field. “It feels great. Pretty excited to get back out there.”
Niklas, who has just one catch for 16 yards this season, was not expected to be relied on in Bruce Arians’ offense. However, his ability to block as well as catch the football makes him an intriguing prospect, though unfortunately he hasn’t had much opportunity to show what he can do because of how much time he’s spent on the sideline.
Since being drafted, it’s seemed as if the second he’s healthy enough to play, something new afflicts him.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” he said. “It’s like you take two steps forward, one step back. I mean, it’s been frustrating but I’m just trying to stay positive, listen to my coaches, apply their techniques and get better every day.
“Just try and control what I can control, and I can control my attitude and my work ethic. So that’s what I’m doing.”
Now he is back, and although Niklas understands he has fallen a bit behind, he believes he’s not too far behind to where he will be unable to contribute.
“I stayed in my playbook, I still feel like I know the offense pretty well. It’s not like I forgot everything,” he said. “But yeah, looking forward to getting back out there though.”