GLENDALE, Ariz. – Troy Niklas calls them roadblocks.
The Arizona Cardinals simply call it bad luck, or bum luck if you’re quarterback Carson Palmer.
How ever they are described, the fact is injuries have robbed Niklas of nearly half his NFL career. It’s why when asked about it this week, the 24-year-old tight end chose to look beyond the 22 games he’s missed over the past three seasons.
“When I’m out there (on the field), I’m not thinking about anything except for doing my job,” he said.
Besides, Niklas added, he’s got an offense to master.
“We’re learning stuff everyday,” he said, smiling.
Within that Cardinals offense, Niklas and Jermaine Gresham give head coach Bruce Arians two big bodies to either help block in the run game, protect Palmer or run routes, sometimes even out of the backfield.
Niklas is 6-6 and 270 pounds, while Gresham stands 6-5 and is listed at 260 pounds.
And because Arians doesn’t use a fullback, the tight end position is crucial to the offense; and what was missing for most of last season.
“When he’s healthy,” Arians said, referring to Niklas, “he’s another tackle that can run and catch. ‘Hercules’ is his nickname and he wears it well, when he’s healthy. He just had those freaky injuries. But last year, it was a big blow to our running game when he got hurt.”
In 2016, Niklas was on the field for three games, catching one pass, before hurting his wrist and subsequently landing on injured reserve for the second time in three years.
Niklas twice underwent surgery on the wrist. He’s also required surgical procedures on his ankles, left hand and lower abdomen to repair a sports hernia. That’s six surgeries, or one fewer than his total number of career starts in the NFL.
“With Troy, it’s just he’s had such bad luck. It’s not like anybody has ever thought to question his toughness,” Palmer said. “When you break a bone in your hand or, I don’t know exactly what he did to his ankle, but you break a bone in your ankle, that’s just bum luck. We’ve never questioned his toughness or his talent and I think him getting the reps he’s gotten, the experience he’s gotten, he’s gotten better each week, so I’m really excited to see what kind of year he can have.”
So are the Cardinals, who made Niklas a second-round pick, No. 52 overall, in 2014, which at the time was the highest they had drafted a tight end in 25 years.
In three seasons, Niklas has recorded eight catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns in 26 career games.
“It’s hard to say,” he said when asked to sum up his career. “I feel like I’ve definitely been putting in the effort and doing the right things, but I’ve been having a lot of roadblocks along the way. I’m just trying to overcome all that stuff and get things going off in a positive direction.”
No time like the present.
It’s a big season for Niklas as he plays out the final year of his four-year rookie contract, meaning unrestricted free agency is right around the corner. Not that he’s paying any attention to that.
Niklas remains focused on the now, the work ahead for that day—meetings and practice—and that day only.
“A lot of times when you’re injured and stuff you have a lot of time on your hands and you can overthink things,” he said. “Now, (I’m) just keeping it real simple, taking it one day at a time, not worrying about what happened yesterday, not worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow, good or bad; just taking it one day at a time, applying the coaching and staying in the present.”
Quietly, Niklas has impressed thus far. He’s stood out in camp and played well in the Hall of Fame Game, hauling in a 20-yard throw from Blaine Gabbert up the middle of the field to convert a 3rd-and-12 on the Cardinals’ second possession.
The trick, of course, is to maintain that production, and more importantly, availability come the regular season.
The one season Niklas was healthy for all 16 games, the Cardinals won the NFC West and advanced to the conference championship.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “Just taking it one day at a time.”
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