Trey McBride was a second-round pick, and the spotlight has been brighter on the tight end for a couple of reasons: One, and the biggest, is that starter Zach Ertz (who was on pace to crush the franchise record for tight end catches in a season) is out for the year. The other is that the Cardinals traded away their first-round pick, so McBride's arrival put him atop the 2022 draft class depth chart.
It hasn't been the debut McBride probably wanted so far, but he's going to get the snaps anyway.
McBride has been targeted 11 times this season and has nine catches for 45 yards. The last target he had Sunday was a big one on third down, and while it looked in real time the McBride could have had the first-down catch it was clear on replay the Chargers defender was able to get a hand in to knock it out.
It's not surprising that his Pro Football Focus grades (for what they are worth) aren't great, a reflection of the learning curve he is trying to climb. (He has been better at pass blocking than run blocking). Since Ertz went down he's played the slot tight end much more, sliding out with Maxx Williams becomes the inline tight end, in two tight end sets. McBride was in the inline role when Ertz was playing.
It hasn't been as much production as the Cardinals may have hoped for, but at this point, the work can only help McBride as he tries to go into 2023 that much further ahead.
"He's just growing into it right now," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "We see some real flashes at practice where you know he's going to be a very good player in this league. Sometimes in the games it seems a little sped up for him, but that is all rookies. The more reps he gets with Zach being out, I think it's going to continue to help him, and you'll start to see some of those flashes as the season winds down."
Kingsbury also shed a little more light on the Williams situation. It's been a weird year for Williams, who came off his major knee injury, played a few games, was released and re-signed to the practice squad so he could get healthier, and now has been elevated a couple of times after Ertz went down.
Kingsbury said WIlliams' body is "as healthy as it's going to be." Williams does have notable issues walking, with him having trouble at times picking up his foot as he walks. "The injury he had, that nerve is basically dead so being able to lift it up is tough," Kingsbury said.
There is no repair for that, Kingsbury said, so they brace it for the games. But it is also another hint as to why the Cardinals decided to pick McBride in April's draft when they did, knowing Williams might have trouble returning to full strength.
Now McBride is in the middle of being force-fed, ready or not. It's a tough indoctrination, but the plan is it will pay off long-term.