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Arizona Cardinals training camp 2013: Previewing the tight ends

This position will get greater attention than in years past


Continuing with our positional previews for the Arizona Cardinals before they take the field in training camp, we now move to the tight ends. For many years, this position has been an afterthought. However, they will be a focal point this season because Bruce Arians loves to run two-tight end sets because of the flexibility it gives and because it does not make it as obvious the type of play that the offense will be running.

The requirements? Tight ends that can play in-line, out wide and in the backfield. Typically one is more of the receiving type and one is more proficient at blocking. Ideally, one could be good at both.

Here is what the roster look like:

Kyle Auffray, undrafted rookie 2013

Jim Dray, 2010 seventh round draft pick

Alex Gottlieb, free agent signee 2013

Rob Housler, 2011 third round draft pick

D.C. Jefferson, 2013 seventh round draft pick

Jeff King, 2011 free agent signee, signed through 2013

Kory Sperry, 2012 late season pickup, signed through 2013

Rob Housler, the breakout player

If there has been one thing repeated almost to the point of being ridiculous, Housler is expected to have a huge year. Bruce Arians has said it, Carson Palmer has said it, the local and national media has said it. He has the physical tools with his size and speed. He has the catching ability and now he will be featured in the vertical offense that Arians loves to run.

It is not just idle talk, either. During the first practice of mini-camp, Fan Fest, Housler was the offensive standout player. He has to stay healthy and he has to show improvement in his blocking.

The battle for TE2

After Housler, there is a lot of uncertainty. Veteran Jeff King should ideally have the inside track, but is recovering from an injury for the second offseason in a row. He has not been part of any practices. We will find out if he will be ready for camp.

After that is a bunch of unheralded players. Dray has been mostly a special teams contributor, but he has the most experience in moving around. He has played out of the backfield, as he was the team's backup fullback last year. He is a decent blocker and is not awful at catching the ball.

Sperry has gotten plenty of reps in the offseason.

Rookie Jefferson looks the part, but is still really new to the position, as he was previously a quarterback. He converted to tight end while at Rutgers.

Auffray and Gottlieb are intriguing options. Auffray has the physical tools and has the tenacity, as he made the roster on a tryout. Gottlieb has experience in the league and also would provide a backup plan at long snapper.

How things could play out

Housler is a lock, obviously. After that, truly anything could happen. King is an underrated pass catcher and probably a slightly overrated blocker, but he is a solid veteran and he did play college ball at Virginia Tech, which automatically endears him to Arians. At the same time, he is due to make $1.5 million in 2013, the highest salary at the position. If he does not separate himself from the younger guys, he might be a salary cap casualty.

I think Dray is going to be a key guy because of his flexibility and contributions on special teams. Jefferson will be in the mix, as well. The Cards are certain to keep four tight ends and I would not be surprised if five made the team, particularly if Gottlieb makes it.

But unlike other positions, really only one spot seems certain. It won't be a sexy position battle, but with all the young guys, it should at least be interesting.

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