I think Arizona Cardinals Tight End Robert Housler is primed to breakout.
He possesses everything you want and need to create a mismatch in today’s game where a pass-catching tight end is a tremendous asset. It is as simple as this: big target + speed + quickness + solid hands = mismatch. His comps are eerily similar to Jimmy Graham’s, with 10-15 pounds being the only difference.
Many of you may be asking yourselves why he didn’t burst onto the scene last year. Patience. Rookie tight ends traditionally need some time to learn the technique of the NFL game before excelling. Don’t forget that the lockout-shortened offseason last year didn’t do the 2011 rookies any favors. Now’s not the time to give up – it’s the time to jump on the train.
I spent some time talking with Robert about his rookie season, what he needs to do in order to excel on the field, and what we can expect from the Cardinals in 2012.
The below is only an excerpt of the interview. Click the ‘listen’ link below for the full 30 minute interview which includes discussion on the Cardinals wide receivers and further in-depth discussion of Robert’s best attributes and what skills he needs to improve to see more time on the field in 2012.
Steve Wyremski (SW): Let’s talk a bit about your rookie season. You were drafted out of Florida Atlantic University in the 3rd round last April. Unfortunately with the lockout, you had a shortened rookie offseason. How much did that impact your development and performance on the field last year?
Robert Housler (RH): I think it was a tough obstacle to overcome, especially talking to the guys who just came in a season before me (as far as development goes). Even now going back and looking at all the film, it’s one of those things where there was a lot of thought process evident in my game-play and it wasn’t just reactionary and second nature. I think it did hurt me a little bit, but it was one of those things you had to overcome. It was the hand dealt. I did my best [and thought] I did pretty good at understanding the playbook and [I’m] looking forward to playing faster this year.
SW: The tight end (you mentioned getting up to speed… understanding the playbook as a rookie) is known as a position that’s very difficult for rookies to pick up and have a ton of success. Looking back on your rookie year, what do you think was the most difficult thing for you at your position at the NFL level?
RH: It was just the technique. [Specifically,] understanding technique on certain plays and understanding the importance of technique. In college, I felt like you could get away with a lot, but you can’t get away with it as much [at the professional level]. The guy across from you is getting paid a lot to get to the quarterback and make a lot of tackles. It was one of those things where along with [playbook] concepts, you had to also understand the technique of blocking and running routes. It’s definitely not a one-dimensional game as far as tight end goes. That was something that caught me off guard – attention to detail and technique. It’s something I worked diligently on with my position coach, Freddie Kitchens and is something we still work on. There’s a lot of importance in technique. That separates you from the guy across from you.
SW: So, how is the run blocking coming along at this point? Prior to the 2011 season, that was one of the things that Coach Whisenhunt noted that you need to work on. Working through the season and with your position coach, how is that coming along?
RH: I think it’s night and day. I’m not where I need to be… I think I’m far from it, but I don’t know anybody who really feels they’re where they should be.
SW: Most of your time on the field last year seemed to be split out wide as opposed to inline. With the Patriots success with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez (Hernandez is not a solid blocker and they primarily position him out wide), has the coaching staffs plan with you changed from the preseason to later on in the year because of that?
RH: They were definitely more confident in me in my receiving abilities than my run blocking. You want to put someone out there and let them succeed. You don’t want to put someone out there not doing what they’re good at. That was up to me to prove that I could play that phase of the game.
You know, it’s still up to me now going into the offseason and going into camp [to prove] that I can be on the field every single play and it’ll be beneficial to the team to have me on the field for either run or pass. Last season, there just wasn’t as much confidence in me in the run game as there was in the pass game, so that’s just up to me. I don’t want to come off the field at all. For me to stay on the field, I just need to prove to them that they can have confidence in me in the run game.
SW: What do you think needs to happen for the talent and ability to translate to success on the field?
RH: It’s just a matter of executing. Last year we had a shortened offseason and we had a whole lot of new faces coming into the organization. It was just a matter of feeling each other out and finding out what someone does best. For me, I got on the field a little later in the season as far as the pass game goes. [It’s] experience and time as an offense. You look at the successful offenses around the league and they’ve been together. So, now with a few tweaks here or there we basically have our team assembled. Now, it’s just a matter of repetition. I think next year we’ll be able to show that we’re an explosive offense. I’m excited. I just can’t wait to have all the guys come in and start repping it. With repetition and general time together, I think we’ll get a good feel for one another and show the league that we can be a good offense.
SW: What about the Cardinals receivers in general. Early Doucet was brought back, but after Larry Fitzgerald there’s a lot of role players. There’s no other dominant receiving option that may draw a second double team destroying the defense. Based on that, there seems to be an opportunity for you. Are there any specific plans for you to split you wide for most of your time to complement Larry?
RH: If anything, I’d like to be inline a little more. It may not be solely a blocking scheme, but it gives your offense balance. You say there’s no one else drawing a double team, but you don’t have too many two deep wideouts that draw double teams. It’s usually one or the other, so I feel like guys like Andre Roberts and Early [Doucet] don’t get enough credit. We haven’t had a solid one [consistent] quarterback and I think that’s big. I’m confident in the guys we have now. They both showed really good things last year. It was John [Skelton], Kevin [Kolb], and others last year splitting time throughout the season and it’s just a matter of repetition. I think Andre is going to show a lot of people what he can do. Early too. People say we don’t have a great number two and I just don’t agree with that. There aren’t too many teams that have two Larry Fitzgeralds. I can’t think of one.
I just want to help out the team. If we run two tight [ends] and want to run the ball six plays in a row, then that’s what they’re giving us. I’m not saying we’ve got to throw the ball 100 times to be successful. In the end it’s all about getting to the playoffs, winning the division, and seeing what you can do once you get to the playoffs. Beanie set a single game record last year, so receivers/tight ends… we’re just as happy to have a successful run game as a big breakout pass game.
SW: Any preference from your end on which quarterback (John Skelton or Kevin Kolb) in 2012? As a backup tight end last year, would there be a preference for John? At the same time, I look back at targets from last year and weeks 5 and 7 and Kolb targeted you 6 and 8 times in those games, which were the two highest for you over the course of the season. Any preference?
RH: No, not from my end. It’s just one of those things where you’re plugging a guy in and he’s giving you the ball. If it was a difference in my having confidence, I could say that, but I feel confident in both of those guys. I’m excited to see how that plays out. Either way, I think we have a winner.
SW: With you saying there are quite a few things you need to work on and you need the reps, you also alluded to the depth chart with [Todd] Heap and [Jeff] King… do you think it’s a bit of time and a bit of work before you see significant snaps on the field?
RH: It’s all about confidence. Everyone should have confidence in themselves, but it’s the confidence the coaching staff has in you. What I want to do between now and when the season starts is show them they can have confidence in me in every aspect. I talked about it earlier. Now is my time to work on it and show them, “alright, we can trust him with this, we can trust him with that”. You know as a player if you performed well or not and what to expect come the season. It’s a matter of putting in the time and staying healthy. It comes with time. I just had my rookie year. There are very few guys who just explode in their rookie year. You see it happen, but it’s not the majority of rookies. For me, it’s just showing that they can have confidence in me.
Click here to listen to the full 30 minute interview with Robert discussing the items above in depth as well as some additional topics such as my comparison of him to Jimmy Graham and a potential 2012 breakout.