Cardinals’ Jermaine Gresham finding leadership role among young TEs

Jun 6, 2018, 8:19 AM
Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the ...
Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham (84) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
(AP Photo/Ben Margot)

TEMPE, Ariz. — A nine-month recovery is quick for a torn Achilles, but Arizona Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham is hopeful he can return to the field for Week 1.

In late December, the tight end tore his Achilles and lost the remainder of the season. According to research done by ProFootballTalk, it takes an average of 11 months to recover from it.

While it’s unclear if he can be healthy by September, Gresham said his recovery process is on track.

“I’m not trying to miss any games,” he said.

Gresham is one of the longest-tenured Cardinals in the receiving core. He led Arizona tight ends in receiving yards the last two years and was productive in the blocking game.

With that said, Cardinals’ tight end numbers never popped off the page during the Bruce Arians era.

During Arians’ five years as head coach in Arizona, no tight end had more than 500 receiving yards. The team consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in tight end reception stats.

With a new head coach, will that change?

New head coach Steve Wilks said he wants to balance the mix of blocking to pass-catching at the position.

“When you have a guy that can do both, now teams can’t really tee off on you with personnel changes,” he said. “When you have a guy who’s a little versatile … it doesn’t give the defense an edge.”

With that said — noting that Gresham’s health is uncertain for Week 1 — the Cardinals don’t have options with proven track records.

The next two players on the depth chart appear to be second-year pro Ricky Seals-Jones and third-year pro Gabe Holmes.

Last season, Seals-Jones was targeted 28 times and caught a dozen passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns. He scored a pair of touchdowns against Houston and then caught 72 yards in a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

However, his production tailed off as the season wound to a close, only catching three passes for 31 yards over the final four weeks.

Holmes appeared in two games last season for the Cardinals and did not accumulate any statistics.

Despite their lack of experience, Wilks thinks they can challenge the defense as receivers.

“We understand and know the athleticism that they have and the ability that they can create on the outside for us and matchup with a linebacker or a safety,” he said.

Gresham also spoke highly of the pair.

“They’re doing everything well,” he said. “The ability to come in, learn a new playbook and make plays at the same time, it’s remarkable.”

Young players often struggle to adjust to the size of NFL players, but Wilks said he’s impressed with their willingness to block.

Gresham said successful blocking comes down to desire.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about want. It’s all about will and what you want to do,” he said. “I had a great mentor. I had Reggie Kelly help me out when I was young, and he was very instrumental to me — just how to be a pro. Once you start getting a feel for the game, it just comes second nature.”

Kelly, a 12-year NFL pro who retired after the 2011 season, played for the Cincinnati Bengals when Gresham was a rookie.

The way the Gresham spoke of the young tight ends made him sound like he was emulating Kelly as a mentor.

“The way they approach the game is not like a second-year player,” he said. “They’re approaching it like veterans. That’s the thing that I’m proud to see. I’m kind of urged to get back out there … and grind with them.”

The tight ends may be forced into a larger receiving role than the position had under the Arians years. Wilks came from a system in Carolina that was driven by talented tight end Greg Olsen. In 2016, then-Minnesota Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford’s best season as a pro, Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph produced 840 yards and seven touchdowns.

In the end, there is no ideal mix of blocking and catching, as long as the team is successful.

“I don’t care, as long as we’re catching a lot of balls and winning games,” Gresham said.

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