Cardinals Training Camp Primer: Tight Ends

TEMPE, Ariz. — There are tight ends a plenty on the Arizona Cardinals’ roster, but it’s a mish-mash of talent, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

“Still got a ways to go,” Arians said after the team’s final minicamp practice in June. “I think Darren’s (Fells) in a really good spot right now. Ifeanyi (Momah) is coming along, gotta see him in pads. He’s obviously been great in shorts. Troy’s (Niklas) still got a ways to go. He’s young; third year at the position, he can’t stay healthy. It’s a big camp for him. Gerald (Christian), I like Gerald.”

With a few short days left before Arizona’s first training camp practice, the team placed their newest tight end, Jermaine Gresham, on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP), and they put Niklas (hamstring) on the Active/Non-Football Injury list (NFI).

In Gresham’s case, being on the PUP list means that he’ll sit out of training camp practices until the Cardinals’ training staff gives him clearance to take the field. Once they clear Gresham, he’ll be able to practice immediately.

If by some reason Gresham isn’t medically cleared by the end of the preseason, the Cardinals may transfer him to the Reserve/PUP list. Gresham would be prevented from playing and practicing during the first six weeks of the season.

Niklas has to follow similar rules to the ones Gresham has to follow on the PUP list. One big difference between the NFI list and the PUP list is that the Cardinals aren’t obligated to pay Niklas his base salary, which will be $602,877 for the coming season. More often than not, teams will work out a deal with an NFI player in order to pay them some or all of their salary if they come to a common understanding about the injury.

The Cardinals have 19 practices and four preseason games in which to figure which tight ends to keep, and there’s seven of them to choose from:

Ted Bolser
Gerald Christian
Darren Fells
Jermaine Gresham
Ifenayi Momah
Troy Niklas
Gannon Sinclair

Bolser‘s bounced around between the Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Cardinals, spending time on their practice squads. He has no actual game experience, but at 6-5, 249, he’d be a big target for quarterback Carson Palmer.

Mr. Irrelevant, Christian, has impressed Arians, based on his earlier statement about him. Arians is really looking forward to seeing him in pads at training camp, because – in more of Arians’ words – Christian is a “hitter.” Arians wants to see if he can be in pads what he was in shorts at OTAs and minicamp.

Arians says Christian is the H-back that he’s been looking for all along.

“He’s (Christian) a different kind of H-back; he’s a blocking H-back,” Arians said. “He’s played fullback, he’s played inside backer, he’s played tight end. Most people think of an h-back as a pass receiving tight end; he’ll stick your face in the fan. He’s going to be a special teams gem.”

“He’ll fight hard for a roster spot because of his special teams value,” Arians said.

With Gresham and Niklas gone for the immediate future, Fells becomes the most tenured of Arizona’s tight ends. Fells played in 10 games (five starts) last season and caught five passes for 71 yards. He also started against the Carolina Panthers in the Wild Card playoff game and caught his first career touchdown pass.

Fells has had an up-and-down offseason. There were times during OTAs and minicamp where he looked like the next coming of Antonio Gates, then there were times when he’d drop sure completions, and Arians would rip him a new one.

Arians saw some definite growth from Fells last season, which he’s hoping Fells carries to the 2015 season.

“Darren (Fells) made the step, he made the step to the NFL; now can he make the step as a consistent every day player?” Arians said. “His December (and) January play was really good. (He) made some catches (and) made some good blocks.”

Of the Cardinals four tight ends last season – John Carlson, Rob Housler, Fells, Niklas – Pro Football Focus had Fells rated as the best of the four. He was the only tight end to have a positive overall rating (4.6), a positive pass block rating (1.1) and a positive run block rating (2.3).

Arians and the Cardinals will expecting even more from Fells this season. At 6-7, 281, Fells can move mountains, and they’ll want him to do the same to the opposition, plus get free to do damage in the open field and in the end zone.

Momah has caught Arians’ attention. Arians might not know how to pronounce his first name (it’s e-FAH-nee), but he’ll learn it.

“I can’t say Mo’s (Momah) real name, but he’s been real impressive,” Arians said. “I’m gonna learn how to say his name pretty soon because he’s impressing me.”

Momah’s been with the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions, but he also couldn’t get any playing time with any of them. He worked out at the NFL Veteran Combine in March at the Cardinals training facility, and three days later he signed a one-year deal with Arizona.

Arians will have his eye on Momah starting on Saturday. At this point, with things so up in the air with their tight ends, all Momah needs to do is stay the course and fight hard for a roster spot.

In two seasons at Missouri State, Sinclair caught 29 passes for 361 yards and 10 touchdowns. The Cardinals signed him on May 5, along with 13 other rookie free agents. He, Bolser and Momah will have to grind hard to be part of the 53-man roster come September 5, which is the final cutdown day. It’ll be really difficult with Gresham, Fells, Niklas and Christian figuring to be ahead of them.

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