He was tired of watching football games from home, where he’s spent his Sundays since being cut by the New England Patriots after training camp. He was tired of getting down on himself. But there wasn’t much he could do about it.
Ballard tore his ACL during Super Bowl XLVI with the New York Giants and was cut in June 2012. The Patriots picked him up and Ballard missed all of the 2012 season while rehabbing his knee then was cut again. He had tryouts during the first nine weeks of this season, including with the Cardinals, but all those teams passed. So Ballard continued to wait.
“It was like a necessary evil,” Ballard said. “I needed to keep training and getting better and rehabbing. And if I didn’t do that I probably wouldn’t have worked out for teams. Period.
“It needed to happen. It was definitely a tough time. I’m glad that’s over right now.”
The Cardinals brought Ballard in for a try out three weeks ago and was upfront with the third-year veteran, he said. They liked what they saw but they didn’t have room, the team told him. That changed Monday, when the Cardinals released rookie tight end D.C. Jefferson and then signed Ballard.
On Wednesday, he took the field for the first time during the regular season since 2011, working with the Cardinals’ special teams unit during the open portion of practice. Exactly how Ballard will be used, however, is still being determined.
“We’ll get him in there and get him taught -- don’t know if we’ll throw him to the wolves right off the bat but it’s finding a role as a second or third tight end, whichever it is,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “There are some three tight end things that we like to do that we’ve kind of gotten away from.”
Arians said Ballard won’t jump Jim Dray as the team’s second tight end but “he’ll find a role.”
Ballard is expecting to be used primarily in the run block and pass protection. He caught 38 passes for 604 yards -- an average of 15.9 yards per catch -- and four touchdowns in 14 games during the 2011 season.
Housler has 135 yards on 14 catches, while Dray has 87 yards and a score on just 12 catches.
The durability of Ballard’s knee kept teams away, but the Ohio State product said it feels good.
“I just need to get in practice shape, get in game shape,” Ballard said. “Only way to do that is practicing and playing in the game. I just need to keep running and lifting and all that other stuff.
“I’m pretty happy about the opportunity. Just happy to be back part of the team.”