Tight Ends Off-season Analysis

The Cardinals are young at tight end, but Ken Whisenhunt appears content to endure the growing pains. Leonard Pope was on his way to a breakout sophomore campaign until an ankle injury derailed his season. Rookie Ben Patrick played well in his stead and will have a spot in the rotation.

Leonard Pope will regain his starting job next season. Picked by the Cardinals in the third round of the 2006 draft, he was the only member of that draft class to appear in every game as a rookie.

During his rookie year, Pope had 16 receptions for 161 yards. He blew those numbers away this season, catching 23 passes for 238 yards and five touchdowns before landing on injured-reserve in Week 14.

Pope used his 6-foot-7 frame to carve out a niche as a nifty red-zone target. He scored a touchdown once every 4.6 receptions, a remarkable ratio for any player. Another year like that could earn Pope a big payday, as he will be a restricted free agent after the 2008 season.

Rookie Ben Patrick was the last of the Cardinals' five picks in this year's draft (No. 215 overall), yet found a way to make an impact by season's end.

Patrick is blessed with great size (6 foot 4, 270 pounds) and soft hands. Late in the season, he overtook Troy Bienemann on the depth chart and moved into the starting spot made available by Pope's injury.

Patrick finished with seven receptions for 73 yards and two touchdowns. The Cards don't use a lot of two-tight end sets, but Patrick's strong finish guarantees he will see plenty of playing time next season, even with a healthy Pope back in the fold.

The Cardinals signed free agent Bienemann to a one-year contract last off-season. He saw only spot duty on offense, ending the season with seven receptions for 46 yards and a touchdown.

Although he performed admirably when called upon, the Cardinals' depth at the position means he will likely not be back next season.

Tim Euhus was added to the roster on May 29, 2007, and played in eight games before the Cardinals released him. However, he was re-signed two weeks later after Pope met with his season-ending injury. The former fourth-round pick of the Buffalo Bills (2004) has far more upside than Bienemann and has a chance to be brought back for training camp, assuming no other teams make a play for his services.

Practice squad TE Alex Shor spent the summer playing for the now-defunct NFL Europa, where he had seven receptions for the Berlin Thunder. The Cardinals have already secured Shor's rights for the 2008 season, although he is probably a practice-squad candidate at best.

The Cardinals have a lot of young talent at tight end. Much of it is unproven, as no tight end on the roster has caught even 25 passes in a season, but Whisenhunt likes the talent at this spot and is unlikely to disrupt its development by bringing in a vet.

Additionally, the Cardinals don't need many more receptions from their tight ends, given the amount of passes it takes to satisfy Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin outside the hashes. So, expect the Cardinals the leave their current tight end corps intact as they prepare for next season.


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