Arizona Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians has now twice called his group of tight ends very "NFL-looking." With the return of Rob Housler and Jake Ballard, who was re-signed this offseason after playing eight games for Arizona in 2013, plus the addition of John Carlson and second round pick Troy Niklas, the talent level has been noticeably increased.
Ballard is an important part of that group and he is finally healthy. After missing a season and a half because of an injured knee, he was finally able to play last season. Even then he wasn't healthy. He is now.
“(There's a) big, big difference in his confidence when running, changing direction and stuff," explained Arians. "Last year, his mind was telling him to go when his leg wouldn’t let him. Now it’s letting him go and you can see a big difference in strength gains and the way he’s running and catching."
If he stays healthy, he will be exactly the type of tight end that Arians loves. He is physical, reliable and can make plays.
“He’ll do it all and do the dirty work, but he can catch the football," Arians said to reporters. "Like he proved for us last year, he caught a touchdown and he’s always going to be in the right spot."
The team let Jim Dray go in free agency. He was the team's most reliable tight end last season. Arians loved how he could always count on him to be in the right place. Ballard can do all of what Dray did, but better. If he is as reliable and can be healthy, it will be a big boost to the offense. At 6-6, 256, if he is paired with Niklas, who is 6-6, 270, they have two large and physical players to help seal the edge in the running game.
With a healthy Ballard, in addition to the other guys in the group, Arians will have a lot of flexibility offensively to do what he wants to do, whether it is running the ball, protecting the passer or having targets down the field.
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