Arizona wants more production from tight ends

By numbers, the Cardinals received more production out of the tight end position last season than they had in years but are still looking for more.

Judging solely by numbers, the Cardinals received more production out of the tight end position last season than they had in years.

Judging by expectations, however, the unit didn't earn a passing grade.

The Cardinals had more talent at tight end in 2011 than they have had at the position in years. But injuries and difficulty adapting to a new offense without the benefit of an offseason keep the unit from making the impact coaches had hoped.

The group caught 65 passes, more than twice as many as in any of coach Ken Whisenhunt's previous four seasons. But the tight ends never became the receiving threat expected.

Jeff King was the only one of four tight ends to play in all 16 games. The others -- Todd Heap, Rob Housler and Jim Dray -- missed significant time because of injuries.

Tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens isn't buying into the excuses.

"It's all about results," he said. "My little daughters tell me all the time, 'I tried,' and I'm like, 'that doesn't mean anything. It's what you do.'"

The Cardinals thought they could use tight ends as a consistent receiving threat, and that they could alleviate some of the defensive pressure placed on receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

But Heap battled a hamstring injury over the last three months of the season. Housler was continually dogged by a groin injury, and Dray missed the first six games after suffering a torn pectoral muscle in training camp.

Combine those injuries with the lack of an offseason, and the Cardinals have reasons for not meeting expectations. King and Heap were signed in the summer when free agency began. Housler was a third-round pick. None of the tight ends were able to learn the offense until August because of the lockout.

Heap says this is "huge for me," he said. "Coming into a new offense, new terminology, last year was an adjustment: shoveling it down all at once, trying to get everything into your head, all in a matter of days.

"Having time to get into it, digest it now, it's going to be huge for a lot of us who weren't here until the beginning of last year," Heap said.

The problems, however, have continued into the offseason. King suffered a partially torn quadriceps tendon while working out at the team facility.

He is expected to return before training camp is over, so it's not a devastating blow. But the team needs Heap, Housler and Dray to get a full offseason of work.

"It was frustrating because in the preseason I really felt like I had some stuff going for me," said Housler. "Then you lose that timing and in the NFL, that's such a big thing. I didn't have a lot of (snaps) with the guys. Defenses are so good and so athletic that if you're not clicking, it's hard to complete stuff."

When healthy, the Cardinals have a versatile group of tight ends. King's forte is blocking but he's a reliable receiver. Heap's specialty is receiving but he blocked better than expected last year. Housler has speed in the 4.5-4.6 range and could stretch the field.

But, first they all have to be available. And then the quarterbacks have to throw good passes. And the tight ends have to catch them. None of those three things happened consistently a year ago.

Kitchens looks back to games such as the one against the Giants, when the Cardinals continually had tight ends open.

"We probably wouldn't have completed the five that were open," Kitchens said, "because after you complete two of them they say, 'Well, we might want to cover them.' But at the end of the day, Housler should have had four or five touchdowns last year (overall) where he was just screaming down the field.

"But it doesn't matter unless you do it. It's all about results."

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