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Big Upgrade At Tight End

Posted Jun 11, 2014

Additions like Carlson, Niklas mean size matter for Cardinals

The healthy tight ends group watches practice Tuesday (from left), Darren Fells, Andre Hardy, coach Rick Christophel, Rob Housler, Jake Ballard and John Carlson.

John Carlson is not a physical slouch by any means, as his 6-foot-5, 248-pound frame is generally the biggest in the room at any non-team-related function. But the veteran tight end grows animated when discussing the size he sees around him each time the Cardinals split up into position work.

Second-round draft pick Troy Niklas “is massive,” Carlson said. “He’s one of the biggest tight ends I’ve ever seen. And Jake (Ballard) is a big dude, too.”

The average size of a Cardinals tight end is 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds, taller and heavier than the average tight end of each of their NFC West counterparts.

It’s no coincidence that the numbers at the position have increased since Bruce Arians took over as coach. Arians’ ideal tight end isn’t the glorified wide receiver who forces matchup problems down the seam. He wants a guy who can put stress on the defense in the passing game, but not at the expense of the rushing attack.

“That’s always been my philosophy,” Arians said. “I don’t want a guy that’s really a wide receiver and your only hope to run the football is if they put a nickel (defensive back) in there and they can block him. In a base defense, he’s not going to block anybody. In my experience, it’s always been a detriment rather than guys who can do both.”

Only Rob Housler remains at tight end from the Ken Whisenhunt regime, as Ballard and Darren Fells were added last year and Niklas, Andre Hardy and Carlson this offseason. Fells, a former professional basketball player, is the biggest at 6-foot-7 and 281 pounds. Carlson and Housler are the shortest at 6-foot-5, while Hardy weighs the least at 245 pounds.

Arians has said multiple times that the current tight ends have the look of “an NFL room.” While the position has evolved in the NFL to include players who put up eye-popping receiving numbers, Arians said earlier this offseason he still considers Pittsburgh’s Heath Miller the best of the bunch because he can catch and block. 

Fells agreed that a player with that dual ability is an asset because defenses can’t key on him when trying to blow up the line of scrimmage.

“Most teams that have smaller, fast tight ends, they know they can’t block, so (defenses) might attack that person,” Fells said. “When you have that size where you can block and also run, it’s a huge mismatch.”

While every tight end on the roster is 6-foot-5 or taller, they still have varying skill sets. Housler and Carlson are known more for their receiving ability, Niklas and Ballard as better blockers.

Carlson has been consistently running with the first unit through OTAs and mini-camp, and while his knock in the past has been his blocking ability, Arians said Tuesday that it is “more than adequate.”

Last year, the Cardinals would regularly bring in tackle Bobby Massie as a sixth offensive lineman during running plays. If the tight ends prove to be capable in both roles, it helps disguise the play-calling.

“We’re all asked to do everything,” Carlson said. “We’re all asked to do run game stuff, we’re asked to make plays in the passing game, and I think we’re all able to do that. I think having versatile tight ends allows us to do different things and give different looks, do run-pass checks, just be more versatile.”

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