Cards welcome Housler with open arms

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Tight end Rob Housler returned to Arizona Cardinals' practice this week, and not a moment too soon.

With Larry Fitzgerald’s hamstring still on the mend, Housler could help replace the threat Fitzgerald provides. At the least, Housler will be the Cardinals’ third option in the passing game, behind Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts. And at the most, he’ll give the Cardinals another option in short-yardage situations while the receivers clear out the safeties.

“We definitely missed him these first two weeks,” quarterback Carson Palmer said. “It’s just great getting that explosiveness back on the field.”

This was supposed to be a breakout year for Housler, who suffered a severe high right ankle sprain in the Cardinals’ third preseason game on Aug. 24. Under new coach Bruce Arians, Housler has become a deft blocker and adopted an increased role in the offense.

Arians loves using tight ends -- the depth chart has two starters, Housler and Jim Dray -- but in Housler’s absence the Cardinals went with three receivers, Fitzgerald, Floyd and Roberts. Although Housler has been listed as limited on the injury report this week, if he starts, it’ll likely be Roberts who will drop out of the starting lineup.

Then the Cardinals can use the package built around Housler, who participated in his first regular-season practice Wednesday.

“He had a great camp and it was a shame, because we obviously had a lot of stuff for him,” Arians said. “Hopefully we can see a good week of practice. It’s one thing running -- he can run -- it’s another thing pushing against big bodies with those ankles.

“You never know how that’s going to turn out. I’m anxious to see him on the field, and I think he’s anxious to get out there.”

Housler was also apprehensive about how his ankle would hold up through cutting, changing direction and mid-play adjustments. He’s been frustrated throughout the past month because it was his first major ankle injury. He didn’t know how long any part of it would last – the swelling, the rehab, the reconditioning.

“I was a little surprised,” Housler said. “I hadn’t really dealt with too many major ankle problems, so kinda playing this one by ear is exactly what I did. It’s unfortunate I missed this much time because I’m dying to get back out there. Just had to go with how I felt.”

Housler refused to look ahead to Sunday. That’s what Arians teaches his players. Housler had to get through a full practice on the ankle, then he had to focus on how it’d recover. There's a lot that needs to happen before the game at New Orleans.

His coaches and teammates, however, are ready to see him out there.

“If you’re going to play your base defense on us, it’s going to be a matchup problem,” Fitzgerald said. “I mean, Rob is one of the fastest tight ends in the game. He creates tremendous matchup issues up the seams, so having that added dimension is only going to make us stronger.

“I’m really happy to have him back, and I know Carson is and the rest of the guys on offense.”

Expect the Cardinals to try to maximize the matchup problems Housler presents because of his speed. He can stretch the field like most receivers, but his position on the line usually means a linebacker will be the first to defend him.

And even though he’s not the one calling plays, offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin likes those odds.

“They got to match up versus him,” Goodwin said. “He’s a tight end with speed – wide-receiver-type speed. So defensively they have to do something. If they don’t, he’s going to have a huge day. We’re just happy to have him back.”