Injuries pave way for Cardinals tight end Jim Dray’s opportunity in Week 1
TEMPE — The news, though not surprising, was just the latest injury setback for the Arizona Cardinals’ offense leading up to the start of the 2013 season.
After Friday’s practice, head coach Bruce Arians announced that tight end Rob Housler, who caught 45 balls for 417 yards in 2012, would miss Sunday’s Week 1 matchup against the St. Louis Rams as he continues to recover from the high right ankle sprain he suffered during the team’s third preseason game Aug. 24.
Next man up.
That man, 26-year-old Jim Dray, doesn’t have a lot of experience when it comes to starting in the National Football League. Through his first three seasons, Dray, a seventh-round pick out of Stanford in 2010, has three career starts to his name — all of which came during his rookie season.
Experienced or not, Dray’s apparently done more than enough during the offseason to earn a starting nod in the wake of Housler’s absence.
“He does everything right,” Arians said of Dray Friday. “It’s not flashy, but it gets done and it all gets done correctly. That’s the kind of guys you can count on.”
Given the Cardinals’ injury woes at tight end — between Jeff King (knee) being placed on IR and Housler (ankle) nursing an injury — simply having a healthy body at the position counts as reliable going into the opener in St. Louis.
But make no mistake, Dray’s ready for the moment.
“Injuries are just something you never think about,” said Dray. “You’re always preparing to be the starter. No one prepares to be the fourth guard or the third tight end. You prepare, take reps and take notes in meetings as if you’re the starter. If you’re not doing that, you’re not going to be here for a long time.
“You can’t sit back and think ‘I don’t need to worry this week I’m not playing,’ because in one play you’re the starter.”
While Dray has certainly prepared like the starter, the question is can he be useful in the passing game — a necessary trait for any tight end in Arians’ offensive system.
In 39 career appearances, Dray has more tackles on special teams (10) than receptions (7).
Part of that was a product of former head coach Ken Whisenhunt’s system and part was a product of opportunity and circumstance. But either way, the New Jersey native said he has one focus come Sunday.
“It’s just executing my job,” said Dray. “I don’t know if I excel or don’t excel in anything. But these coaches put you in a position to be successful and to execute the job every play.”
Dray and rookie D.C. Jefferson, who will likely start on the opposite side of the line Sunday, are set to become the third and fourth different tight ends (Jeff King in 2011 and 2012) and Todd Heap in 2011) to start a regular season opener for the Cardinals since 2011.
“This is awesome,” said Dray. “This is what you want. You don’t want to sit behind anyone. You want to play. You want to be a starter. Everyone in here is competitive, so from a competitive standpoint it’s a great opportunity for me. Hopefully I can make the most of it.”