TEMPE, Ariz. – If Michael Floyd’s preseason hype is validated by the 2013 regular season, life will be good for Larry Fitzgerald.
“We all have to help each other out,” said the always-diplomatic Fitzgerald.
That’s true, but if Floyd can take some of the pressure and coverage off of Fitzgerald by using his size and winning 50-50 balls, quarterback Carson Palmer will have a better variety of weapons and Fitzgerald will have more opportunities.
The scary alternative with the Cardinals’ receiving corps is that if Floyd can’t do it, there may not be anyone else who can. Andre Roberts has blossomed into a good option, but he’s really still a third option. Tight end Rob Housler will likely begin the season sidelined with the dreaded high ankle sprain, and the Cardinals only kept four receivers on the 53-man roster, unless you count Patrick Peterson.
In our ongoing position preview, here’s a look at the receivers and tight ends.
Starting receivers: Fitzgerald, Floyd
Reserves: Roberts, Jaron Brown, Peterson
Starting tight ends: Housler, Jim Dray
Reserves: Kory Sperry, DC Jefferson
Injured reserve: Jeff King (knee)
Who’s new? Brown (rookie free agent), Sperry (free agent), Jefferson (7th round, 219th overall)
Is Floyd ready for a quantum leap? All signs say yes. He played well in the preseason, and the coaches have raved about his work ethic, knowledge of the offense and execution. That’s all well and good, but we won’t know for certain until the games begin. On the flip side, it’s important to note how few real opportunities Floyd got last season with such shoddy quarterback and offensive line play, not to mention the utter lack of a rushing threat.
Will the Cardinals get the ball to Fitz more? They’d better. Fitzgerald’s 71 receptions and 798 receiving yards were the second-lowest marks of his career, ahead of only his rookie year. His four TDs and 11.2 yards-per-catch average were career lows. The Cards appeared to throw to him a ton in training camp, and coach Bruce Arians’ offense should help, but again, if Floyd can relieve some of the defensive attention on Fitz, that will help more.
Do the Cardinals have a deep threat? TBD. Roberts will play a lot in the slot and be tasked with making some of the tough catches over the middle. Housler will also serve as a safety valve and, in a perfect world, a nightmare mismatch due to his speed. Jaron Brown was the one receiver of all the new bodies in camp who stuck. The Cards like his speed (he ran a 4.4-second 40), but he’s still raw, and they will continue to scour the waiver wire for opportunities.
How much can we expect from Peterson on offense? Late in camp, Peterson said the number of offensive plays involving him had grown to 60, and Arians still maintains that Peterson will get his reps. However, in spite of Peterson’s and Arians’ assurances that offense won’t tire him out or put him at greater risk for injury, Peterson still has to be the team’s elite cover corner and still has to serve as a return man. There’s only so much one player can do.
Is Housler going to break out this year? If that ankle sprain heals quickly, he’ll have opportunities. Palmer threw to the tight end an awful lot in Oakland last year, and the Raiders’ Brandon Myers does not have Housler’s speed.
What about the other tight ends? King’s knee injury hurt because he was actually a decent receiver in addition to a solid blocker. Arians will use a lot of sets with two (and even three) tight end sets. The club likes the potential of Sperry and Jefferson, but neither has shown enough consistency. Dray is really just a blocker. This position could get an upgrade at some point this season.
Outlook: The offseason effort to upgrade the roster wasn’t focused on these two positions. The hope internally is that existing players — especially Floyd and Housler — take the necessary steps forward to aid the cause on offense.