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Tight End Renaissance

Posted Sep 15, 2011

First game from King, Heap shows improvement at position

Tight end Jeff King clearly enjoys scoring his 48-yard touchdown against Carolina Sunday.

Jeff King knew the Panthers’ free safety had dropped off somewhere, he just wasn’t sure how far.

“Apparently he went really far,” the Cardinals’ tight end said, and the result “was awesome.”

King was recounting his 48-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in Sunday’s opener, “probably one of my favorite plays of my career.”

The play was a favorite of all the Cards, and not just for the six points it generated. It put an exclamation point on one of the offseason plans for the team, an upgrade at the tight end position. The Cardinals signed King and fellow veteran Todd Heap as free agents (as well as drafting Rob Housler) and it took just one game to show how they could make an impact.

Heap and King combined for four receptions for 101 yards against the Panthers. Heap’s 20-yard reception (he had a second of the same distance) came on the first pass attempt of the season, helping spark a touchdown drive. King made his huge play.

“It always changes an offense when you have tight ends involved,” Heap said. “The biggest thing is how defenses have to account for people, how defenses have to change their eyes and where they are focused. They can’t just key on a couple guys or a couple formations.”

When coach Ken Whisenhunt arrived in Arizona as a former tight end, he looked to help the position. The Cards chased blocking tight end Reggie Kelly, a free agent in the spring of 2007, before Kelly chose to go back to the Bengals.

Since then, the Cards’ quest to change the position has never been fully fleshed out. The team drafted Ben Patrick in the seventh round in 2007 and for a time, thought he would eventually blossom. He made some plays that reached an apex in the Super Bowl when he made an impressive touchdown catch against the Steelers.

Patrick never made the final step, however, and the Cardinals decided to let him walk away as a free agent this offseason. The team brought back holdovers Jim Dray – a seventh-round pick – and Stephen Spach to fight for a spot (Dray eventually won), and set out to add new pieces.

Housler was drafted as a receiving threat, while King was signed right away to be a blocker. Heap, whose forte is catching the ball, wasn’t even available. When the Ravens surprisingly cut him, he wanted to come home to Arizona and the Cards were happy to oblige.

“We’ve come a long way at the position,” Whisenhunt said.

Impacting the offense seems like a logical step. “It helps to have multiple guys that can come and the defense can’t be sure if it’s a pass or a run,” King said.

Adding tight ends who can make a difference is another reason the Cardinals didn’t have to rush out and overhaul the receiving corps behind Larry Fitzgerald. It meshes well with quarterback Kevin Kolb, who had developed a chemistry with tight end Brent Celek during his brief time as starter when playing in Philadelphia.

“I have always relied on my tight ends a lot,” Kolb said. “When I came here and got with these guys here, there is a lot of talent, even with our young guy Rob. We are going to use them. They have the playmaking ability.”

They proved that against Carolina. No one was more excited about that than King, a former Panther, who showed it should be a different year for the tight ends.

“I am known for blocking. That’s my niche,” King said. “But I am no frying pan out there. I know my role. But when you are called on to make plays, you make plays.”



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