GLENDALE, Ariz. — The start of Cardinals tight end Troy Niklas’s professional career has been anything but smooth, and, with the season fast approaching, the former Notre Dame standout is behind the proverbial eight ball.
Still recovering from a hand injury suffered in the spring, Niklas faces the task of playing catch up in his first training camp while competing for a position in a crowded field.
"He’s way behind," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians aid. "You just can’t miss that kind of time as a rookie and then try to catch up not only to the assignments but also to the speed of the game. But he’ll be fine."
Niklas, a second-round draft pick, missed nearly all of the spring workouts due to sports hernia surgery and a broken right hand. He opened training camp with a soft cast on the hand but has participated thus far.
The cast appeared to hinder Niklas in pass catching Saturday, but despite that and the time he already missed Niklas feels he’ll have no trouble getting up to speed.
"I wouldn’t say I feel super far behind," Niklas said. "I stayed in my book and studied a lot and prepared a lot for camp. I felt like I knew what I was doing yesterday. It’s just about doing it now and getting used to the offense."
Watching experienced tight ends John Carlson and Jake Ballard, Niklas said, has made learning the offense a little more doable from the sidelines. He called the learning curve to the pros "pretty smooth" and said those veterans were part of the reason.
Niklas said he’ll be out of the cast in about a week and until then will have to figure out how to make catches with it on. More than that, though, he has to prove to coaches he’s making up for lost field time.
"Now it’s a lot about taking what I know and applying it on the field," Niklas said.
The situation at tight end is much different than it was a year ago when the Cardinals signinged a free agent in camp just to add competition. The position is loaded this year with Ballard, Carlson, Niklas and Rob Housler leading a six-man group.
"Last year we were searching," Arians said. "This year it’s great competition to just get on the field, which is just going to make us better. We’ve got some big-bodied blockers, and we’ve got some very good pass receivers."
The estimated 10,000 fans on hand at University of Phoenix Stadium on Saturday got their first look at the powerful arm rookie quarterback Logan Thomas was said to possess.
"Logan had probably one of his better days," Arians said. "He still has to learn when to throw the ball extremely hard and when to just throw it accurately. A strong-armed young quarterback has that problem. He gets all jacked up and wants to show it off."
Thomas, a fourth-round pick out of Virginia Tech, displayed the huge arm that wowed evaluators at the NFL Scouting Combine but not always in a positive way. Receivers didn’t always seem prepared for the bullet passes Thomas was firing, with one even hitting Niklas in the helmet before he could turn his head around.
"Thank God Troy had a helmet on," Arians joked. "It’s bad enough he had a cast on his hand, but to fire one at him…he’s got bruises all over his chest from the other ones he was hitting him with."
Added Niklas: "He’s definitely got a gun. He’s trying to give people concussions out there."
Arians said he did see Thomas make some mental errors, such as snapping the ball in a no-huddle situation with the offense in an illegal formation, that he hopes will be eliminated quickly.
The NFL Network comes to Cardinals camp on Tuesday, with "Inside Training Camp Live" stopping in Glendale. Former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who is set to go into the team’s Ring of Honor on Sept. 8, and anchor Amber Theoharis will host the Network’s coverage of the practice from 2-4:30 p.m.
— Linebacker John Abraham still has not reported to training camp as he tends to a personal matter with the team’s blessing.
— Arians said Ballard suffered a thigh bruise Saturday and missed Sunday’s practice. He is expected back Monday when the team practices in pads for the first time.
— There probably won’t be much shuffling on the right side of the offensive line during camp, as Arians said tackle Bobby Massie and guard Paul Fanaika have established themselves as the leaders there and need only maintain their holds on the spots. Still, Arians said no competition is settled yet.
— Arians called Saturday’s training camp-opening practice "very good" save one thing: "Disappointed in the number of veteran mental errors on offense. That was probably the only disappointing thing about the practice."
— Arians on what he saw from the team’s rookies Saturday: "We tell the young players ‘You’re either getting exposure or getting exposed.’ A couple got exposed yesterday."
— Linebacker Kenny Demens is trying to earn a roster spot, and Arians said he has been impressed with how Demens looks physically and the outlook is "very, very good" for him.