Tight end Rob Housler makes a catch during a recent OTA.
The heat beats down on the players each day during OTAs, and the drills are nearly the same day after day.
Rob Housler can't get enough of it.
"I appreciate the time I have out here," the second-year tight end said. "It's not mundane. It's just more chances to work on your game."
Those chances didn't come last year, when Housler was a third-round draft pick and shut out of offseason learning because of the lockout. The chances were limited again in the regular season, when the Florida Atlantic product missed four games because of a groin injury and lost valuable time not only to improve but to improve his footing on the depth chart.
The Cardinals have a handful of tight ends returning, from veterans Todd Heap and Jeff King to former seventh-rounder Jim Dray. But it is Housler who is supposed to represent the future, a potential pass-catching matchup nightmare – with emphasis on potential.
"He was very raw, very athletic," Heap said. "He's got a lot of intangibles you want. You make your biggest leap from the first year to the second year, and that's what we are working on with him."
The tight end spot has long been one in flux for the franchise. That's why Housler was last year's draft pick, a guy to groom as the receiver of the group. King was long a target in free agency and the Cards jumped on him as soon as they could after the lockout, but then Heap suddenly was available after being cut by Baltimore and the Cards brought him aboard too.
In theory, it would have let Housler slowly develop. But Heap had injury problems himself, battling a bad hamstring that kept him out of six games, and when Housler was needed, he too was on the shelf.
"This league is about reliability, accountability and availability," tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens said. "If you don't have all three of those, the rest doesn't matter. Hopefully that's all gotten better and it will allow his ability to take over."
Housler ended up with only 12 receptions for 133 yards, his year marked more by his injury and a pair of wide-open but missed connections from quarterback Kevin Kolb early in the season that both should have gone for touchdowns.
"Last year I was disappointed in myself, but it was a good learning process," Housler said. "It was frustrating. I tried to stay healthy in college and injuries are frustrating, especially when you are trying to learn everything and play at a high level. But I think it strengthened me mentally."
Kitchens said he sees Housler not as an underdeveloped second-year player but as a veteran. In an NFL world where tight ends like Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham and Aaron Hernandez have busted out as difference-makers, the Cards would love for Housler to create attention of his own.
That has yet to be proven, however. His time at Florida Atlantic probably started him a bit further behind, Kitchens acknowledged, because he didn't have to know as much and didn't have to hone his technique as much. His physical talent took care of most of that.
"A lot of times, in the league he was in, he could just beat people with speed," Kitchens said. "He has excellent speed, but going against DBs with the same speed, you have to be able to win on technique."
Housler knows he's still learning. But he isn't going to use his background as a crutch either, whether it is his school or the fact he didn't get much prep time as a rookie.
"It's not where you went to college, it's what you do on this level," Housler said. "It's up to me.
"I expect a lot this year."