GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Before Saturday's preseason opener, the last game John Carlson played in was his last of 2013.
A concussion knocked him out of Minnesota's Week 14 loss to Baltimore. Two weeks later he was put on injured reserved. Three months later the Vikings released the tight end. But five reported concussions throughout his college and professional careers didn't stop Carlson, who signed with the Cardinals this offseason.
While head injuries are a daily threat in the NFL, the potential of a sixth known concussion didn't slow Carlson on Saturday when he played in his first live action since Dec. 8 in Arizona's 32-0 preseason win over Houston.
"We understand that as football players it's a violent game, it's a physical game," Carlson said. "You do everything you can technically to be as safe as possible. The league has done things to make the game safer but you can't go out there worried about getting hurt or you're going to be at a higher risk of getting hurt then."
A second-round pick by Seattle in 2008, Carlson has found a third NFL home as long as he stays healthy.
He's a starter for the Cardinals and is the type of tight end coach Bruce Arians sought to fit into his offense. He's 6-foot-5 and 248 pounds, and can block off the line and run tight routes. He showed his receiver skills Saturday when he beat 2014 top pick Jadeveon Clowney off the line for a wide open 13-yard touchdown, though it was called back because of a penalty.
By time he played his seven snaps Saturday, Carlson was accustomed to being hit again. Arizona donned pads on the third day of training camp and the hitting commenced immediately. While tackling to ground is generally prohibited, getting knocked around has been a part of camp.
But Carlson said he's not concerned about getting another head injury.
"We practice hard and that's the way we get ready to play the game," he said. "You can't go out on the football field and be worried about getting hit. That's when guys get hurt."
Arians said Carlson's concussion history was a concern when the team signed him in March, but his talent trumped the risk.
"He's doing everything he can to make sure he doesn't get another one," Arians said. "Football is football."