With the projections of the offensive line complete (you can check out previous projections here), we move on to the most questionable position group on the Arizona Cardinals' roster: tight ends. Last year four different players would start multiple games at the tight end for the Cardinals and they enter training camp without a clear cut starter or even a front runner. Three of the four guys previously mentioned return this year, with Jerame Tuman being the only exception, and the team did bring in a couple new faces in an attempt to breed some competition and sustain some level of effectiveness. It'll likely be towards the end of camp before we have any kind of clarity at this position but we'll try to wade through the possibilities.
Stephen Spach, Ben Patrick
On the Bubble
Leonard Pope, Anthony Becht, Dominique Byrd, Alex Shor
It might seem weird that the two guys who might not even be able to start the season with the club are considered locks but hear me out. Spach became the best tight end on the roster almost as soon as he was signed last year and there's not much of a reason to think that he can't return to that level once he's fully healed, even if it means starting the season on the PUP list. He's been adamant that he'll be ready by the start of training camp but eight months is a quick turnaround from an ACL injury. My thought process on Patrick, who will miss the first four games of the season due to a suspension, is that if the team were going to cut him, they would have already made the move. The team knew about his upcoming suspension when they tendered him this off season so it wouldn't make a great deal of sense to turn around and cut him after camp. He's the best receiving tight end on the roster by far, with possibly Byrd being the only exception. The next four guys we'll hit after the jump but just for the record, only Alex Shor is eligible for the practice squad.
Leonard Pope: Pope, a third round pick in 2006, has never quite lived up to expectations although he showed some promise in 2007 when he caught five touchdowns balls. Last season was supposed to be a breakout year for the 6' 8" tight end but injuries and inconsistency limited him to just nine receptions in eight starts. His height, once thought to make him a great red zone threat, has never materialized into a weapon and instead has kept him from becoming much of a force in either run blocking or pass protection. Despite his struggles though Pope did start the most games at tight end for the Cardinals last season and with question marks surrounding the health of Spach and Patrick's unavaliability, the door is open for Pope to finally play up to his potentional. Either way though the four year pro is in the midst of a make-or-break season.
Anthony Becht: Becht has two assets that might just set him apart from every other tight end in this group. He's extremely durable and he's a very good blocker. The last time this former first round pick missed a game due to injury, Ken Whisenhunt was his tight end coach (2000) and since then he's gone on to play in 136 consecutive games. As a blocker, Becht is almost a third offensive tackle and that's the primary reason why the soon to be 32 year old is still in the league. He doesn't offer much as a reciever but that doesn't mean that his hands are terrible. He's capable of catching the ball just don't expect him to become a threat to stretch the field or run away from defenders (as evidence by his yards per reception of 8.1). Regardless of his limitations though, with the emphasis that Whisenhunt places on blocking, some consider Becht to be the favorite heading into training camp.
Dominique Byrd: The signing of Byrd seemingly came out of the blue. The front office and scouting department went to USC's pro day and Byrd just happen to be there working out in hopes of resurrecting his defunct NFL career. The former third round pick, also in 2006, lasted just two seasons with the St. Louis Rams before they grew tired of his lack of desire or work ethic. Apparently a year outside of the league has Byrd looking like a changed man though and he's spent the off season working out with Larry Fitzgerald. Byrd has always been a decent threat in the passing game and with Patrick out for the first four games, Byrd might just get a shot at proving he can still play. He'll have to prove to Whisenhunt that he can hold his own in the running game and pass protection though.
Alex Shor: Shor, despite being in the organization since 2006, is still an unkown. He was signed after being undrafted in 2006 but didn't make the team or practice squad that season. He was resigned after the 2006 season and spent the 2007 summer playing in NFL Europe (played in nine games with one start). He was again cut during training camp and didn't find his way back to the practice squad until the week of the regular season finale. Shor repeated the same cycle during training camp although he did spend the entire 2008 season on the practice squad. On one hand you'd think that he's well thought of by the coaching staff because they keep bringing him back every year. At the same time though you've got to wonder why the team felt more comfortable bringing in a newcomer (Spach) last year instead of calling up a guy who already knew the offense. To his credit, Shor is thought of as an above average blocker.
If there is one thing that stands out, it should be that the Cardinals have options at tight end. With five experienced veterans and a sixth player very familiar with the system, you'd have to think that the team can find some combination of players that will resemble an effective unit. It'll be interesting to see who is left standing once the dust settles in mid to late August. Who do you think will make the final roster? Will Spach start the season on the PUP list? Will the Cardinals carry three or four tight ends?