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Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week that he was pleased with all the rookies from the 2011 NFL Draft. He felt they all have the potential to be solid NFL players which is not always the case with an entire rookie class. One guy that's caught the attention of both the coaching staff, fans and media observers is third-round pick Rob Housler, a tight end from Florida Atlantic.
Housler was known coming out of college as a good receiving tight end and he's lived up to that reputation in both practice and his first two preseason games. He's totaled seven receptions for 86 yards in those first two appearances in a Cardinals uniform.
Whisenhunt agrees that Housler has been impressive in the passing game and has done some things instinctively which are "through the roof". That is the stuff that's easy to notice according to Whisenhunt, a former NFL tight end himself.
"What Rob's got to do is continue to work on some of his things in the run game, some of his blocks," Whisenhunt said. "He's working hard. I like his make up as far as his willingness to stick his head in there and try and get it done right."
Housler doesn't dispute that he's got work to do on the blocking part of his game, "It's a work in progress. It's a big adjustment between the collegiate and professional level."
Rob has a great NFL tight end in Todd Heap to learn the passing game from and another veteran in Jeff King who's known for his blocking. Housler said he's trying to learn from all the veterans and improve every aspect of his game.
"You want to be an every down tight end. You don't want to be confined to one side of the game or not. I think that's what everyone's goals are. We all go in there with the goal to be on the field as much as possible. The only way you can do that is to be good at what you do which is blocking and catching."
Housler pulled up after catching a ball in practice on Tuesday and had his upper leg wrapped in ice. He didn't fully participate in the team's walk-through Wednesday morning. He said it's nothing serious and being held out was only precautionary and a normal part of getting banged up in training camp.
OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 11: Rob Housler #84 of the Arizona Cardinals catches a touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on August 11, 2011 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
One would think that for a rookie wide receiver on the Arizona Cardinals learning from Larry Fitzgerald would be the top topic after the first five days of NFL training camp. DeMarco Sampson, seventh round pick from San Diego State, certainly was complementary of Fitz but he was also quick to point out leadership among the receivers comes from other places too.
We spoke with Sampson after Wednesday's practice. He stayed late working on some individual skills and was walking off the field carrying only his equipment unlike many other rookies who carry the gear of their veteran teammates.
"He's a good leader. He's not the typical star of the team. He's not cocky. He helps the guys out when they need it. He's there for everybody," Sampson said about Fitzgerald, but added, "(It's) not only him."
"Larry, he's so into his work a lot of the times, you don't really want to bother him. He's real detailed to his art of running routes. But Early, he's always back there helping guys out," Sampson said.
As for camp itself, Sampson said it's more of grind than he was expecting. He knew coming in that it would be a challenge but it's even harder than he thought, "Trying to stay healthy, keeping your legs fresh is the biggest thing. After a while, we do run a lot as receivers, that's probably all we do, it just takes a lot of wear and tear on your legs."
We've seen Sampson make some nice catches in practice and with his size (6-2, 204) he provides a more rugged option than some other receivers in camp. He thinks he's coming along well but admits to some mental errors. Overall, he says that he's coming along just as fast as anybody else.
Making the final roster is anything but a lock for Sampson.
With Fitzgerald and Doucet all but assured positions the team also has Max Komar, Andre Roberts and Stephen Williams back from last season. The team normally carries six receivers on the active roster but this season with the depth at the tight end position it could just be five. Sampson might have to beat-out one of the guys ahead of him to make the team out of camp.
For more on the Arizona Cardinals, visit Revenge of the Birds.
Arizona Cardinals' DeMarco Sampson (89) catches a ball in front of Patrick Peterson as rains forced afternoon practice at Cardinals' NFL football training camp inside, on Monday, Aug. 1, 2011, in Flagstaff, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Texas rookie linebacker Sam Acho is just a few days into his first NFL training camp. He's got a lot to learn but is excited and getting positive feedback so far.
Rookie running back Ryan Williams (second round, Virginia Tech) got a boost in his profile Sunday when the Arizona Cardinals cleared out one guy on the depth chart ahead of him. With Tim Hightower traded to the Washington Redskins, the Cardinals are sending Williams a message that he's heard loud and clear.
"They opened the pathway for me," Williams said after practice on Monday morning. "If I don't perform and if don't do what I need to do to get on the field than I'm going to look bad and it's going to make them look bad too. I don't want nobody looking bad."
Hightower's departure also cleared another roadblock for Williams. He can now wear number 34 which for a running back is the ultimate sign of greatness.
Williams was a fan of Walter Payton since he was a kid and even emulates his running style a bit on Sweetness' distinctive high-step, "I have a little something, it's not quite like his but our styles favor but different in a couple of ways."
The young rookie is totally focused on his job, which right now means learning the playbook. He has no TV or computer in his dorm room and has no desire to go out on the town and sample some of the Flagstaff restaurants.
Williams' has his head buried in the play book and is even more motivated by being on the same field as some of his football heroes.
"I feel like a little kid out here seeing Larry Fitzgerald, (Darnell) Dockett, I mean guys like that I was watching them, playing them on games and now I'm with these guys. It feels good. It feels good that I made and now I've got to work as hard as these guys."
Williams might have one path opened to him with the Hightower trade, but coach Ken Whisenhunt made it clear that Beanie Wells is "the guy" and will get the the opportunity to "run with it".
The Arizona Cardinals had a busy day on and off the field. As we covered all the Sunday action off the field, the team put on the pads and spent two-hours of a partly sunny Flagstaff afternoon running through a variety of drills. It wasn't always pretty but at least tomorrow the complement of players will include all the team's rookies who are now signed and in camp. Patrick Peterson even took the podium for a 6:00 pm press conference.
Peterson is understandably excited to get the contract stuff out of the way and practice on Monday for the first time in a Cardinals uniform. It won't, however, be the first time he's lined up opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Like many players this offseason Peterson worked out with Fitz in Arizona during the summer.
"He told me he's going to get me better," Peterson said. Guarding the best receiver in the league in practice will prepare certainly help prepare the rookie for NFL Sundays.
As for practice, "It was good to get out here on the field in pads and see some of these guys. I like the intensity and effort but a lot of the little things you're seeing -- guys lining up offsides, missing the count, being in the wrong place, making mistakes. A lot of the things you see early in the offseason that you get your players comfortable with you're going to have to fight through."
Linebacker Clark Haggans agreed that this training camp has been a challenge, "It's a lot different than what I've seen before with all this activity. We've crammed six months worth of stuff in four or five days. It's flurry. It's kind of exciting especially for you guys just to report. There's news happening every 10 minutes something big and breaking."
The Cardinals will have two practices on Monday with the early work out (9:05 am) being a walk-thru only. (Full practice schedule here.)
For more on the Cardinals, check out Revenge of the Birds.