Niklas strengthens Cards' run, pass games

May, 13, 2014
May 13
7:20
PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Now that Bruce Arians has his tight ends, the Arizona Cardinals' offense can start to take shape.

The final piece of the puzzle was added in the second round of last weekend’s NFL draft when the Cardinals picked tight end Troy Niklas out of Notre Dame. With three new tight ends since the middle of last season, Arians can begin running his scheme like it was designed.

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNotre Dame tight end Troy Niklas' blocking ability adds versatility to the Cardinals' offense.
“Totally upgraded for what we wanted to do,” Arians said. “We feel like the position is really, really solid right now. Jake (Ballard) came in and did a nice job at the end of last year. Robbie (Housler) is a different style guy, so he gives you some things in the passing game. Then, obviously, (John) Carlson comes in and give us an all-around type of guy also.

“Obviously, we like tight ends. We use a lot of them. This is a great fit for us.”

Niklas, who was introduced to the Arizona media on Tuesday, gives the Cardinals more options off the line of scrimmage. He can block and catch, using his 6-foot-6 frame to shield linebackers and safeties while using his flexibility to catch low passes. But where Niklas will impact the Cards’ offense the most is staying home on the line of scrimmage.

With him on the field, Arians doesn’t have to use an extra tackle during run plays.

“When you put a tackle in like most teams, they struggle at the tight end spot versus defensive ends, versus 4-3 teams,” Arians said. “You lose a lot because the safety is down there, two yards from the line of scrimmage, because you know he’s not going off our pass.

“This is a big, strong guy who can go out for passes and also block the line of scrimmage. So, we are very versatile now.”

And the Cardinals are in luck. The former outside linebacker, who said he let his pads do the talking in college, enjoys blocking.

“I like physical contact,” Niklas said. “I really don’t mind getting my head stuck in there.”

Niklas was given the Cardinals' playbook Monday and is already aware of how complex Arians’ offense will be. He found a few intricacies that will take a “little bit” to understand. Under the tutelage of tight end coaches Rick Christophel and Steve Heiden, Niklas said his initial role will be as an edge-setter on the run, but will likely evolve into the passing game. During his draft-day conference call, Niklas said he’s “pretty good” up the seam, and is as comfortable running a wheel route as he is in a two-yard out.

That versatility will give quarterback Carson Palmer more options out of the base offense, especially when teams are keying on Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Andre Ellington and Ted Ginn.

Niklas is cut from the same tight end mold that has tormented the Cardinals’ defense recently. He’s 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds with a basketball body.

“In the NFL, the tight ends are used so much more than in the past,” Niklas said. “It’s a pretty vital part of the offense now. It’s just hard for linebackers to cover us because of our speed, and it’s hard for safeties to cover us because of our size. It creates a lot of mismatches.”

Playing only two seasons as a true tight end, Niklas still has a lot to learn. But he won’t spend much time looking back at his days at Notre Dame.

His sights are focused on being molded by Arians, Christophel and Heiden to fit the Cardinals’ system.

“They definitely say that the blocking or well-rounded tight end is a bit of a dying breed,” Niklas said. “So, hopefully we can spark a little bit of a revival in that.”

Josh Weinfuss

ESPN Arizona Cardinals reporter

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