Tight end Rob Housler goes out for a pass during last weekend's game.
When the season started and tight end Rob Housler was on the bench because of an ankle injury, the Cardinals weren't worried because they had three wide receivers to which to turn – including Andre Roberts, who had a team-best eight catches in the opener.
Housler returned, which was expected just to provide another weapon. But since he came back, Roberts' production has shrunk.
Roberts played 51 of 71 snaps in the first game and 53 of 71 in the second game. Then Housler came back and coach Bruce Arians said Roberts' time playing in the slot went down. Roberts hasn't had a game in which he hasn't played at least 53 percent of the offensive snaps, but the last three games, he has been targeted only seven times with two catches for 12 yards.
Housler, meanwhile, has had trouble getting started himself. He has only seven targets himself, with two catches for 36 yards.
The passing offense overall has been scuffling, so no one's receiving numbers will have been eye-popping of late. But both Housler
and Roberts are trying to adjust.
"To go from eight catches in one game to one-catch games, no-catch games, that's tough," Roberts said. "I'm just really trying to work through that and understand my role."
Housler, whom offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said needs to start making plays as expected, understands the Cards need more from him.
"We're not clicking like we should," Housler said. "But we have been in practice hammering hard at it trying to get that trust that, this is what (QB Carson Palmer) is seeing, this is what I'm seeing and we're on the same page."
Arians said the coaching staff "will look at" Roberts playing inside more often once again.
"I don't think we are going away from (Andre) at all," Palmer said. "I expect him to prepare this week and be ready to go in there. It's the type of offense where you don't know who it's going to be."
Housler, whose ankle is no longer an issue, said it isn't an either-or proposition with him and Roberts.
"It hasn't been a science lab or something where you are testing to see what works," Housler said. "Obviously we aren't doing what we need to be doing as an offense. … We have had success with multiple tight ends and we have had success in multiple receiver sets. We just want to be balanced and do what works."
DRAY WITH A FIRST SCORE
Housler may be trying to find his rhythm but fellow tight end Jim Dray, drafted in 2010, scored his first NFL touchdown against the Panthers. There didn't seem to be any teammate who didn't enjoy Dray's score immensely, and even Arians gave him some good-natured ribbing.
"B.A. said 'You only have to catch it once' because I guess I kind of bobbled it," Dray said. "It was all in good fun."
Dray came into the season with seven career receptions. He already has 10 catches this season – not that it matters to him.
"The coaches know what they are doing and they are putting guys in the best position to help the team win," Dray said. "If that means I catch a ball or 10 balls or no balls, I don't care."
Goodwin said new left tackle "fought his butt off" against the Panthers even if he made a few technical mistakes. Overall, though, Goodwin was being careful about assessing the pass protection for Palmer.
"(Palmer) is going to get hit, because you can't be perfect all the time," Goodwin said. "The better he feels, the more comfortable he is in the pocket, the better he will be. The last couple weeks, we made him a little nervous and we have to do a better job."
HEALTHIER CARDS ON THURSDAY
Six Cardinals were upgraded in practice Thursday, as LB John Abraham (shoulder), LB Jasper Brinkley (groin), DT Darnell Dockett (groin), LB Daryl Washington (knee) and S Rashad Johnson (finger) all returned to full practice. LB Kenny Demens (hamstring) went from DNP to limited. WR Larry Fitzgerald (hamstring), LB Kevin Minter (hamstring) and DE Ronald Talley (wrist) remain limited.
For the 49ers, DT Justn Smith (shoulder) was upgraded to limited. DT Ray McDonald (biceps) remained DNP, while CB Nnamdi Asomugha (knee), G Alex Boone (shoudler), T Anthony Davis (shoulder), CB Carlos Rogers (knee) and LB Patrick Willis (groin) remained limited.