Cardinals Positional Analysis: Tight End

The Arizona Cardinals' tight end mix features a variety of players who can't truly call themselves playmakers. Leonard Pope leads a group that hopes to have a more noticeable impact in 2009. Andy Bishop breaks down the weak spot in Arizona's potent offense.

Tight end Leonard Pope has failed to develop into a reliable playmaker in his three years with the Cardinals. It looked as though Pope was slowly improving after hauling in 23 receptions and five touchdowns in his second season (2007).

But he turned in a disappointing 2008 performance, catching just nine passes for 77 yards and no touchdowns. While part of the blame can be put on Pope's injuries and the extensive number of balls thrown to the wide receiver corps, Pope simply did not deliver a high enough level of consistency.

By signing Pope to a one-year contract this offseason, the Cardinals are giving him one more chance to step up. The organization still feels he can use his size (6'8") and athletic ability to stretch the middle of the field. He will likely be penciled in as the starter at tight end come Week 1.

It looked like third-year tight end Ben Patrick would be given an opportunity to challenge Pope for the starting job. That prospect came to an end when Patrick was suspended four games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on banned substances. Patrick will be able to practice with the team and play during the preseason, but will not be able to play until the team's fifth game in Week 6 (Arizona has a bye in Week 4).

Patrick struggled last year staying on the field due to injuries, and his suspension is just another hindrance to him becoming a more productive player. While the tight end corps may have its roles established when Patrick is activated, Arizona's coaches believes he has enough upside that they will find ways to get him involved.

Stephen Spach appeared to be the Cardinals' best option at tight end before suffering an ACL injury in Arizona's playoff win at Carolina. He started the playoff games against Atlanta and Carolina, and coaches like what they saw.

The problem for Spach coming into training camp is that it's only been six months since his ACL surgery. The Cardinals have to ask themselves if Spach can contribute immediately given his situation. Arizona might consider putting Spach on the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list at the start of the season if he is not fully healthy.

The Cardinals also added veteran Anthony Becht this offseason. He is best known for his blocking expertise, and will be best utilized in power formations. He adds a needed punch to a Cardinals rushing attack that finished last in the league in 2008. Arizona will rely on his veteran experience.

Rounding out the tight end group is offseason acquisition Dominique Byrd. He didn't see very much action in his first two seasons while playing in St. Louis. After taking last season off, Byrd is motivated to make the most of his opportunity. His chances of making the roster improved drastically when Patrick was slapped with the suspension.

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