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Trey McBride Helping Make Tight End Position Of Spotlight For Cardinals

Second-year man about to break franchise record for receptions

Tight end Trey McBride flexes after a catch during Sunday's win in Pittsburgh.
Tight end Trey McBride flexes after a catch during Sunday's win in Pittsburgh.

Trey McBride was targeted only 10 times in the first five games of the season, hardly the kind of start from which records are set.

So after 13 games, the tight end could be forgiven if he wasn't really thinking about having tied the franchise record for most receptions in a season for the position – 56, with four games left to smash the mark.

"That's great but I'm not even focused on that," McBride said. "I'm trying to come out and catch the ball. I had no idea that was even a thing. Just trying to do my job."

Tight end has long been a forgotten position with the Cardinals. No matter the roster, the coaching staff, the offensive scheme, the position has not been one of priority in the passing game. McBride already has 610 yards receiving this season – more yards in a season by any Cardinals tight end in franchise history not named Hall-of-Famer Jackie Smith, and more than any tight end since the team moved to Arizona in 1988.

Only six tight ends have even had has many as 35 catches in a season for the Cards in Arizona: Jermaine Gresham, Jay Novacek, Rob Housler, Rob Awalt, Freddie Jones, and Zach Ertz.

Ertz came in after his 2021 trade and nabbed 56 catches in just 11 games, for a share of the record with Smith and now McBride – until McBride's next reception.

That McBride tied the record in the game following Ertz's release was fitting. The mutual parting of the ways between Ertz and the Cardinals came in large part because of McBride's emergence since being drafted in the second round in 2022.

Coach Jonathan Gannon said the Cardinals liked the tight end room enough to let Ertz go, and the Steelers' game underscored that. Of quarterback Kyler Murray's 13 completions, 11 went to tight ends (8 to McBride, 2 to Geoff Swaim, 1 to Elijah Higgins) in a ratio unheard of for the franchise.

"Some teams are more tight-end friendly with the systems, some teams will ride the hot hand," Swaim said. "I think with us, a new offense, everything is new and the whole thing has been, 'Who are we? Who are we as an offense?' Trey has done a good job of being really consistent. And the system does do a good job of featuring the tight end."

Higgins is a rookie, a wide receiver at Stanford who is making the transition to tight end and has shown the ability to make key catches. The Cardinals also have another undrafted rookie tight end, Blake Whiteheart, on the roster, and international man Bernhard Seikovits on the practice squad.

Swaim is the veteran who was brought in for his blocking ability, a role he is good with.

"You pursue the route that shows you the most reward," said Swaim, who has been in the NFL since 2015. "I was getting a job based on my ability to block. I wasn't going to turn my nose at that."

"It's no secret, I'm a blocking tight end, that's my thing," Swaim added. "But to have a tight end … like Trey, man, that can do a lot for your offense."

McBride played receiver and running back at his small high school, as well as linebacker, but he loved the idea of catching touchdowns instead of preventing them and moved to tight end at Colorado State.

He blocked plenty in college, he said, but "it's something I'm always trying to improve on, something I can be better at."

McBride said he thinks he has earned trust from quarterback Kyler Murray, and by the way they have connected since Murray's return – 28 catches in four games – it's a reasonable assessment.

"He's become a matchup nightmare for whoever is on him," Murray said. "The sky's the limit for Trey."

The only NFL tight ends with more yards than McBride this season are an all-star lineup: Travis Kelce, T.J. Hockenson, George Kittle and all-everything Lions rookie Sam LaPorta.

With 800 yards a realistic goal, McBride would have only the third season of at least that many yards for the Cardinals. Smith had 810 in 1966 and 1,205 in 1967 – the same year Smith had his 56 catches, for an astounding 21.5-yard average.

The Cardinals might have a tight end they'll want to use quite a bit.

"You are asked to do a lot, you're asked to know a lot," McBride said. "You're asked to block, you're asked to run routes, asked to pass protect. It's a tough position but I think the offense we run here values the tight end."

The top images taken by the Cardinals team photographer during the 2023 Week 13 regular season game against Pittsburgh, presented by Earnhardt Auto Centers.