TEMPE, Ariz. This wasnt the way it was supposed to end. Not for a local legend. Not for Todd Heap.
When the Cards signed him to a two-year deal in July of 2011, it was thought that Heap would provide a safety blanket for newly acquired quarterback Kevin Kolb, who loved to throw to tight end Brent Celek in Philadelphia and needed time to learn the intricacies of the offense.
Heap came to the Cardinals on the heels of 10 seasons with Baltimore, where he was the Ravens career leader in receiving touchdowns (41) and was second in receptions (467) and receiving yards (5,492). In 2010, Heap had 40 catches for 599 yards and five touchdowns and he caught a franchise postseason record 10 passes for 108 yards against Kansas City.
But NFL careers rarely have Hollywood endings. Last season, Heap missed six games with injuries and only started four. This season, in Week 2, he sprained a knee ligament on an illegal hit out of bounds against New England and hasnt played since.
It is frustrating, said Heap, who won two state championships at Mesa Mountain View and then when on to a storied career at Arizona State. But you cant let it get you down. You just have to keep your head down and keep working to get better.
For eight weeks, we were told that Heaps absence was a product of the injury, even if it seemed odd that a sprain would keep a player out that long. But Heap returned to practice on a full basis last week, so when he was declared inactive via a coachs decision, eyebrows were raised.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday that Sundays decision was a product of the time off.
Reps in practice, he said. Youve got to get ready to play, and thats part of it.
Heap acknowledged there is some rust from that much time off, but he also hinted at one point that the decision to sit him on Sunday was a numbers game.
It is no secret that Whisenhunt had a recent talk with Heap. Some have speculated that Whisenhunt was calling Heap out for not playing through some pain while the team has been mired in a seven-game losing streak.
Thats always going to bother you, Heap said of such speculation. I dont think youd be a competitor if it didnt bother you, but you cant let it change how you look at things, how you prepare, and its not going to change how you feel.
Theres always a lot more that goes into any injury, but its not for me to comment on; its not for me to raise as an issue. I just have to let people think what they think and worry about what I can do.
Heap admits thats hard.
Its hard to watch that to hear it and be a part of it but it comes with the territory. For me to comment on it or say what I think serves no purpose. Even doing interviews, its hard to comment on it and tell people exactly whats going on.
One thing that seems all too clear is that Heaps days in Arizona are numbered. In his absence, the Cards have gotten a good long look at his replacement, tight end Rob Housler, who is the franchises future at the position.
Ive seen him get better, Whisenhunt said. Hes gotten a lot of play time, and thats helped him. Hes made some big plays for us.
The Cards also have Jeff King and Jim Dray, so when Heap says tight end is a numbers game, it carries dual meaning. It is highly unlikely that Heap will return to the Cards next season. Will the 12-year veteran return to the NFL?
I dont really give that evaluation until the season is over and done with, so theres no point in speculating, he said. But I definitely dont want to finish my career on a year like this.
As for this week, Heap hopes that stacking a few practices with plenty of reps together can land him back on the field. But as we learned Sunday, that will be the coachs decision.
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