Toght end Ben Patrick rumbles downfield during his 21-yard reception last weekend.
Tight end could play a large role in the outcome of the Cardinals' visit to San Diego Sunday.
The Chargers feature Antonio Gates, the perennial Pro Bowler who – even if sidelined 1,000-yard receiver Vincent Jackson was playing – remains the top target for quarterback Philip Rivers.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, are already short-handed at receiver thanks to the injuries of Steve Breaston and Early Doucet. While there is a certain faith young rookie receivers Stephen Williams and Max Komar can be at least somewhat effective, the Cards may also turn to their own tight end in Ben Patrick.
Patrick remains the most viable receiving threat at the position among him, Stephen Spach and rookie Jim Dray. He has just three receptions, but his eight-yard catch helped on a touchdown drive and his 21-yard reception helped the Cards into scoring position before a Derek Anderson interception.
"You never know what the game is going to call," Patrick said. "For me, I just want to do whatever they ask me to do, whether it is block or be more involved in the passing game. Being in the system (so long) does give us an advantage as a safety valve. Both Spach and I for that matter."
Patrick has made major strides since arriving as a seventh-round draft pick in 2007 out of Deleware, although coach Ken Whisenhunt said Patrick still needs more consistency. He hasn't been helped with injury issues so far – he missed most of training camp with a dislocated kneecap as his latest setback – and was suspended the first four games of the 2009 season because he violated the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
"I have seen him develop," Whisenhunt said. "He is definitely a much better football player now, a much tougher football player. Unfortunately he has had some setbacks that have kept him from getting to where we think he can be, but he is making great progress. I am pleased with what he brings to the offense."
The Chargers don't have the same issue with Gates. Their tight end already has 17 receptions for 242 yards and four touchdowns in three games and will be watched closely, although as Cardinals safety Kerry Rhodes noted, "It's not like we're going to cover him with three guys."
"The guy is like a receiver," Whisenhunt said. "He's done it for years. It makes it difficult, no question and you have to account for him. There is a reason they are the No. 1 offense in the league and he is a big part of it."
Linebacker Paris Lenon had a solid but undistinguished NFL career before signing with the Cardinals as a free agent, and the Cards' expectations were muted.
"What we were looking for, especially knowing we would have new faces and young faces, was a veteran presence who was a solid player that brought the right attitude and mentality," Whisenhunt said. "You hear it often, the 'being a pro' mentality and that's what we needed for this defense."
But Whisenhunt said Lenon has provided that and more thus far, with Lenon coming of a very good game, including an interception and a sack in the same game for the first time in his career.
"His work ethic, his ability to understand the game plan, his communication with the other players as well as his level of play has been critical to being a big part of his defense," Whisenhunt said.
Lenon wasn't sure he wanted to play in a 3-4 defense. "I thought it was going to be pretty foreign to me," Lenon said. "But when we actually went over it, it was familiar to me, similar to what I had done in the past."
The Cardinals should have every player except their two wide receivers – Steve Breaston (knee) and Early Doucet (hernia) – available Sunday. Linebacker Paris Lenon was still officially limited Friday with his sore tailbone, but he is expected to play.
For the Chargers, running back Ryan Mathews will return from an ankle sprain, but linebacker Shawne Merriman (calf), guard Louis Vasquez (knee) and safety Darrel Stuckey (hamstring) are all listed as doubtful.
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