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Troy Niklas Yearns To Blossom

Cardinals tight end hoping he can get past the injuries that have derailed his career


Cardinals tight end Troy Niklas is back on the field after another injury prematurely ended his 2016 season.

Troy Niklas probably wishes he could remain incognito for the next few months, knowing anything he utters right now will sound hollow.

The Cardinals' tight end, entering his fourth season in the NFL, looked physically imposing during the first three OTA practices this week -- but he always does. He earned praise from coach Bruce Arians, who labeled him a clear starter on Tuesday – but he's been complimented before.

Arians and Niklas would love to speak with unbridled optimism about the former second round pick's ability to finally make a mark on this team in 2017, but they cannot escape the caveat.

"He was coming on like gangbusters last year," Arians said. "I remember (commentator and former NFL coach) Jon Gruden came in and said, 'Where the hell is 87? He's a great player.' I said, 'He's hurt again.'"

After three seasons and six major injuries, Niklas enters the final year of his contract hoping to salvage his NFL career.

As a rookie in 2014, he suffered a hernia injury and a broken finger before his first training camp, and then an ankle injury ended his season after seven games. In 2015, it was more ankle trouble in the offseason and then a recurring hamstring issue. Last season, Niklas played three games before a wrist injury ended his season.

"It's just bad luck," Arians said.

The Cardinals have options behind him, but Niklas is the player they want to pair with Jermaine Gresham as the two-headed monster at tight end. They have put him into position to succeed, choosing not to tender restricted free agent Darren Fells this offseason and forgoing the position in the draft.

General Manager Steve Keim ran into Niklas earlier this offseason and implored him to finally deliver.

"Hey, I need you this year," Niklas said Keim told him. "You've got to be the guy."

The Cardinals can't count on it happening -- Niklas has just eight catches for 71 yards and two touchdowns while missing 22 of 48 games over three seasons – but what if it finally does?

"It would really mean the world to me," Niklas said. "Obviously when you come in as a second-round pick, you've got a lot of expectations on you, and I really haven't delivered. I know that. The only way I can change that is by coming in to work every day and getting better. It's about being that guy that they drafted three years ago – becoming the guy that they wanted me to be."

Niklas plans to wear a wrist brace this season -- and possibly the rest of his career – as a safeguard, and the ankle injury he had as a rookie still lingers.

Some players have watched their entire careers sidetracked by injuries, while others have gotten past them. Niklas isn't sure if the injury-prone label will stick on him or mercifully wash away.

"I feel like I'm doing the right things and taking care of my body every day and that allows me to put my best foot forward out there," he said. "I'm confident in the process that I've developed to stay healthy out there. But you never know."

Arians can be brutally honest on the field, and Niklas won't avoid that ire when he messes up. But he's not buried on the depth chart and has a legitimate shot at regular playing time if he can finally put it all together.

There's unquestionably been frustration over the first three years that Niklas never lived up to his draft status, both from the player and the team. And while the dream of a turnaround may be hanging by a thread, it hasn't completely slipped.

"That's been the best thing about this organization – through all of it, they've always expressed confidence in me," Niklas said. "I'm just trying to be the tight end they're trying to coach me to be."

Images from the second OTA of 2017

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