Rookie Troy Niklas (87) talks with fellow tight ends Jake Ballard (86) and John Carlson (89) during Tuesday's on-field work.
Troy Niklas knows the assumptions people make when they see him off the football field, as soft features and a disarming smile are not exactly trademarks of the rough-and-tumble NFL. The Cardinals' newest tight end, though, believes good looks can be deceiving.
"A lot of people see me talk and they're like, 'This guy doesn't really look like a banger or doesn't really sound like
a banger,'" said Niklas at his introductory press conference on Tuesday. "My one year that I played defense (at Notre Dame) and all through high school when I played defense, I definitely developed a mentality of getting after people, and not just doing it once. All game long, just wearing on you and really letting you know that I'm on the field and I'm going to be here all night."
Niklas might look more pop star than football player, but after coming away impressed by his game tape, the Cardinals are counting on him to bring physicality to the tight end position immediately. Coach Bruce Arians said Niklas' route-running ability needs improvement – which isn't a surprise considering he has played the position full-time for only two seasons – but he should contribute right away in running situations.
Last season, the team would use offensive tackle Bobby Massie in jumbo packages, but Niklas is expected to compete for that spot. He had 32 catches for 498 yards and five touchdowns at Notre Dame in 2013, so while a good blocker, opposing defenses must also respect his ability to release from the line of scrimmage. Instead of an
opposing safety automatically creeping up into the box in anticipation of a running play, Niklas' presence will give him pause.
"This is a big, strong guy who can go out for passes and also block the line of scrimmage," Arians said. "So, we are very versatile now."
The Cardinals are bucking the trend in the NFL, where tight ends like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are game-changing threats in the passing game. The tight ends which do block are unheralded because they rarely put up noticeable statistical numbers, but General Manager Steve Keim feels like he has a hybrid in Niklas.
"This, to me, is a guy who could really transcend into being one of the top all-around tight ends at some point in his career," Keim said.
As a decorated former offensive guard and defensive tackle in high school, Niklas still enjoys doing the dirty work in the trenches. He's bounced around through many of the less glamorous positions on the field and takes pride in going toe-to-toe with the opposition.
"I like physical contact," he said. "I really don't mind getting my head stuck in there. It's always funny when you get a good block on a (defensive) end, and he's just sitting there like, 'Man, this tight end just owned me.' There are not a lot of better feelings than that."
Niklas said there is a level of natural ability associated with pass-catching, but also thinks he will see improvement by working with tight ends coach Rick Christophel and assistant tight ends coach Steve Heiden throughout the offseason. It's uncertain when it will all click, but if Niklas can succeed in both phases, he could become a favorite of Arians in short order.
"They say that the blocking or well-rounded tight end is a bit of a dying breed, so hopefully we can spark a little bit of a revival," Niklas said.
The 2014 rookie class get on the field for Phase 2 work