Arizona Cardinals coach Arians: ‘It’s going to be hard to beat’ Darren Fells for TE job
Aug 11, 2015, 1:08 PM
(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)
GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was expected to be a question mark at best and a weakness at worst.
But to hear Arizona Cardinals general manager Steve Keim talk, you’d think his team’s tight end position has turned out to be a strength.
“You know what, it’s funny how you come out of the spring with it being a little bit of a concern because of the questions. Darren Fells still hasn’t played a ton of football. (Ifeanyi) Momah was a guy that we found at the Veteran Combine here in Tempe this offseason, and was a little undersized for the position, but some of the things he does in the passing game is really unique, and he continues to shine,” Keim told Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Monday. “We always questioned whether he would be able to do it when the pads came on because he was really pretty in shorts and ran around and catch balls and look great on air, but could he do it with matchups and stuff where he had to block in line, and he has looked fantastic.
“And then to be able to add Jermaine Gresham in free agency this late in the season is really unique. Very few times are players of his caliber still around in late July, early August, and it was great to be able to have an opportunity to sign him.”
Oh yes, Gresham. The two-time Pro Bowler was signed at the start of camp, and though he has just recently returned to the practice field after recovering from offseason back surgery, his addition appears to be a huge boost to a position that for all its potential, very much lacks a proven option.
To wit: the team’s combination of Fells, Momah and Troy Niklas, a second-round pick in 2014, has combined for eight catches and 109 yards, totals that jump to nine, 110 and one touchdown if you include the playoffs. Heading into camp, they — along with seventh-round pick Gerald Christian — figured to be the team’s best options. They appeared to be the only options.
Enter Gresham, who is one of three tight ends with five straight seasons of at least 40 catches, 400 yards and four touchdowns.
Asked if a starting job is Gresham’s as soon as he is healthy enough to fill the role, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians scoffed.
“He ain’t got no starting job. He’s never played here. You’ve got to earn all that. You don’t sign contracts and get jobs. He’s got to come out and earn all that on the field,” he said. “Darren Fells is our starting tight end. He’s doing really, really well. It’s going to be hard to beat him out.”
Arians added the “F position,” which is more of a receiving tight end role, is a different story. Still, in some ways Arians’ words very much seems like coachspeak. While Gresham and the team have maintained that nothing has been promised to him in terms of role and snaps, it’s hard to believe the team signed him — and he signed with the Cardinals — to be a backup. No, Gresham is very much expected to be a key part of the team’s offense. But just more than a week into camp, Fells can make the same claim.
A 6-foot-7, 281-pound second-year pro, the former basketball player emerged down the stretch last season and has continued to progress this offseason. In fact, rare has been the practice where he hasn’t made at least one or two nice catches.
He’s come a long way from where he was one year ago, where he was learning to be a football player.
“Basically the difference is confidence,” Fells said. “I have the confidence. I’ve been going over the offense, knowing it a lot better so I know what to do. Now I can just play.”
Of course, Fells had to learn to play, too. He admitted the transition from basketball took some work — especially in the weight room — but now that he’s gone through the process, the results are noticeable.
So while the 29-year-old may be seen as a late bloomer, right now he’s being viewed as a legitimate option to be the team’s No. 1 tight end. It helps that he’s been playing well, though no doubt injuries at the position — to Gresham and Niklas, specifically — doesn’t hurt, either.
“Right place, right time,” he said. “Just trying to take advantage of the opportunity and try not to show any weakness and show I can take that starting spot if I can.”