With Rob Housler sidelined, Jim Dray (81) is the Cardinals' No. 1 tight end going into Sunday's game with the Rams.
When Jim Dray was a freshman at Stanford, he asked one of the older players what the best way was to get on the field.
"The coaches have to trust you," Dray was told.
The tight end didn't forget. He eventually got on the field enough in college to become a seventh-round draft pick of the Cardinals, and then has earned enough trust in Arizona to make it not only to his fourth year but – with Rob Housler out with an ankle sprain for Sunday's opener in St. Louis – now is the No. 1 tight end.
Trust is a powerful ally.
"He does everything right," coach Bruce Arians said. "He's not flashy. But it all gets done and it all gets done correctly. That's the kind of guy you can count on."
Dray is the kind of down-the-roster player who usually is changed out when coaching staffs turn over. Instead, Dray seems to be more popular with Arians than he was with Ken Whisenhunt's staff. He isn't going to make a ton of catches, but he
can block, he can play out of the backfield and he can play special teams.
He's also smart, which has been a big deal.
"They have to trust you will do your job or else what's the point of putting you out there?" Dray said. "The game happens fast. There are some impressive athletes running out there. If you mess up or are caught thinking or hesitate, bad things can happen."
Timing and circumstance, like anyone, have impacted Dray's career. The Cards have often looked for someone better. Or, when Dray did have a chance to step forward, he's dealt with injuries. He sees this season as no different, knowing that if Housler and Jeff King had stayed healthy, he might not have gotten such a chance to make the impression he has on Arians.
Arians said Kory Sperry and rookie D.C. Jefferson continue to make strides. They will be the other two tight ends with Housler sidelined. The plan, Arians said, was to only dress three tight ends game days.
That begins with Dray, who despite his stay on the roster is an unknown even to many Cardinals fans.
"I would prefer to remain under the radar, so if you could not publish any of this, it'd be great," Dray said. "But it doesn't matter.
"(No attention means) one less thing to think about. I'm a firm believer that empty barrels make the most noise. I try not to make much noise."
ALFONSO SMITH FIRST BACK IN AFTER MENDENHALL
Arians took the mystery out of his running back situation Friday. Rashard Mendenhall is the starter (and is probable to play with his knee issues). Behind him, it is by committee, Arians said, but Alfonso Smith has earned the backup role in most circumstances.
It's quite a turn for Smith, who was cut at the end of the preseason last year by the Cardinals and only returned after Beanie Wells suffered his toe injury that kept him out half the season. Smith was a long shot again coming into camp after the Cardinals drafted two backs, but thanks in part to his excellent pass protection, won Arians over.
"It's a big deal," Smith said. "I know he has a lot of faith in me. I kind of had a feeling (in his status). I knew I was going well, but I need to keep working hard. I've been preparing for this opportunity."
With Smith No. 2 and rookies Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington both playing special teams, Ryan Williams could be inactive for the game.
CAMPBELL JOINS INJURY REPORT, QUESTIONABLE FOR SUNDAY
Defensive end Calais Campbell popped up on the injury report Friday with a quadriceps issue after accidently being kicked in practice the day before. Arians did not sound concerned about it, but Campbell is listed as questionable for St. Louis while the team waits to see if the injury has an adverse reaction to flying.
Campbell and Housler are the only player on the injury report that aren't probable, including Mendenhall (knee), wide receiver Andre Roberts (quadriceps) and defensive tackle Dan Williams (ankle).
For the Rams, tight end Cory Harkey (knee), safety Darian Stewart (thigh), cornerback Quinton Pointer (thigh) and linebacker Jonathan Stewart (hip) are all out.