Arians' offense creates chance for Housler to thrive

New offense and solid QB play could spell breakout year for fleet-footed tight end Rob Housler.

TEMPE, Ariz. – Scroll through the litany of preseason stories on Cardinals tight end Rob Housler and you’re likely to encounter some version of this statement: Dropped far too many passes in 2012.

Then you remember the dropped touchdown on Saturday against San Diego and the dropped ball on the only pass thrown his way the previous week against the Cowboys and you nod your head; a willing member of the congregation.

The problem with this sermon? The stats from 2012 simply don’t back the notion that Housler had a case of the dropsies.

According to the web site (and two other sites that posted the same stats), Housler finished 119th in the NFL last season in drop percentage at 7.35 percent. Housler was targeted 68 times, catching 45 balls while dropping just five.

Granted this stat can be a bit subjective, but with such a large sample size it’s still instructive to note that Housler’s drop percentage was better than Packers tight end Jermichael Finley (8.05 percent), New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham (10.37 percent) and New England’s Aaron Hernandez (10.84 percent). 

“I don’t get upset. People are entitled to their opinions,” Housler said, when asked about his reputation. “All I care about is understanding what happened on the play, understanding you’re better than that, and you can’t let those balls slip through your fingers. 

“That’s a literal and a metaphorical kind of statement for me because of the opportunity I have this year.”

You’ve probably heard this could be a breakout year for Housler. Coach Bruce Arians said recently that he can envision Housler catching 80 balls in this offense, which would be nearly double the amount he had last year and would also be the most ever by a Cardinals tight end.

Arians can be prone to hyperbole, but backup QB Drew Stanton, who played for Arians last season in Indianapolis, said it’s not a stretch considering Housler’s physical talents and the way Arians wants to use the tight end.

“He creates mismatches,” Stanton said of Housler. “What we want to be able to do is run our entire offense out of multiple personnels and he has the flexibility that you can split him out wide and do stuff, but you can also bring him into the backfield and run our running game.

“He can also help you dictate what coverage you’re seeing because if you split him out wide, the safety goes out with him, and you know you have man,” Stanton said.

Housler’s size (6-5, 250) makes him an awfully inviting target for quarterbacks. But, unlike the Cardinals’ other tight ends -- Jeff King, Jim Dray, Kory Sperry, DC Jefferson, Alex Gottlieb and Tuesday's roster addition, Richard Quinn -- Housler has rare speed. In 2011, his draft year, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds, the fastest time of any tight end at the NFL Scouting Combine.

“What do you do with him?” Stanton asked. “Do you put a corner, a safety or a linebacker on him. Any of those matchups we’re going to like for different reasons, whether it’s his size advantage or his speed advantage.”

Of course, Housler still need to deliver. Last season was a good start, but there is much to prove in his third NFL season -- widely believed to be the season in which the light bulb must go on for young players.

If recent history is any guide, it also helps that quarterback Carson Palmer has developed a liking for check-down routes as he’s aged, matured, and perhaps lost just a shade of that deep arm strength. In Palmer’s one season in Oakland (2012), Raiders tight end Brandon Myers caught 79 passes for 806 yards. He had never caught more than 16 passes in his three previous seasons.

“Obviously, I have to take advantage of my opportunities by getting open and executing the pay, but I do think the play-calling is going to be there, so it’s a matter of if the defense is going to give it to us,” Housler said. “We have a bunch of options, so it’s going to be tough to focus on one position.”

There were a number of factors that held Housler back the past two seasons. The Cardinals had poor quarterback play that led to multiple missed connections, and the pass protection wasn’t good, but Housler’s personal stumbling block has been blocking, not catching.

He came out of Florida Atlantic and admits now that the jump to the NFL from a small school was a big one.

“You get to this level and everyone’s at the top of their crop. You have to be extremely precise,” he said. “But it’s been good to be thrown into the fire. I wasn’t just sitting in the background watching. I was out there getting experience and that really helped me in every facet of my game. 

“I think I’ve made a lot of progress. It’s just, in the blocking department, I had a longer way to go, and I’m still trying to close the gap to where I need to be.”

Arians likes what he’s seen from Housler.

“He’s had a heck of a camp other than dropping that touchdown,” he said, noting that there have been times “we wanted to feature him, but there’s some things you just don’t want to show in preseason.”

The Cards are hoping they’ll be able to showcase Housler when the regular season starts Sept. 8 in St. Louis. He’s currently nursing a high-ankle sprain suffered against the Chargers. While he is listed as day to day, that type of injury can linger – a point not lost on Housler.

“I’m hoping for a speedy recovery because I want to put my best foot forward,” said Housler, immediately recognizing the play on words with his injury. “It’s good for me to hear how they want to use me, and that they have such confidence in me. It shows what kind of expectations they have. 

“If they have the same as I do, that’s a good thing.”