Heap returns to Arizona, career comes full circle

Associated Press
New Arizona Cardinals'  Todd Heap smiles as he talks to the media during a news conference Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011, in Flagstaff, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
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FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — With his return to Arizona, Todd Heap's football career has come full circle.

After a decade with Baltimore, the two-time All Pro tight end was released by the Ravens, something he said was totally unexpected. He and his wife looked around and found Arizona the most desirable destination. He agreed to a two-year contract over the weekend and arrived at training camp Monday night.

Heap was a high school football star in Mesa and excelled at Arizona State before going to the NFL, so it's a highly popular signing among Arizona fans.

Most important to the Cardinals, however, is Heap's declaration that he has a lot left to offer on the field. His addition gives the Cardinals something they have sorely lacked, a big, pass-catching tight end.

"I feel like I've got many years in front of me. My body feels good," he said at a news conference on Tuesday. "I'm looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish here."

Even though neither Heap nor new quarterback Kevin Kolb is eligible to practice until Thursday, coach Ken Whisenhunt is envisioning what an accomplished tight end can do for an Arizona passing offense that ranked next-to-last in the NFL last season.

"When we were doing some of our red-zone stuff in our walkthrough I was already thinking about some of the people we could put him on to try to create some matchups down there in that area," Whisenhunt said. "That's exciting. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do."

Whisenhunt, when he was offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh, saw Heap many times.

"I just remember big plays," the coach said. "When you're playing a game like that, you're so focused on trying to get prepared for your next offensive series when you're calling the plays that you just have a chance to look. But it seems like you'd look up and you'd see him make a big play. That kind of stands out. That really sticks in your memory."

Heap, 31, caught 40 passes last season, and his 599 yards receiving were his most since 2006. Against Kansas City in the playoffs, he set franchise postseason records of 10 catches for 108 yards. He ranks fifth among all tight ends in receptions with 467 and fourth in touchdowns with 41.

Heap said the call he got from Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome telling him he was being released was a complete surprise, but he had nothing but praise for the city of Baltimore and the Ravens.

"I can't say enough about that team, that organization," he said. "I'll miss a lot of my teammates, definitely great guys, a great locker room, a lot of guys I learned great life lessons from. In one respect I was sad to see that era end, but I'm even more excited to see this one begin."

Before he decided to come to Arizona, Heap agreed to visit the New York Jets. He had a long-standing relationship with coach Rex Ryan and others on the staff.

"They'd called me, wanted me to come visit," Heap said. "Definitely out of respect for them and what they have going there I wanted to go up and visit them. Obviously it didn't work. I made my decision that night to come to the Cardinals, while I was in New York, and I felt really good about it."

His roots in the desert are as deep as they come.

Born in the Phoenix suburb of Mesa, he led Mountain View High School to the state championship, then enrolled at Arizona State, where in three seasons he caught 115 passes, a school record for tight ends. He skipped his senior season to go to the NFL, and was picked by the Ravens as the 31st choice overall. Coming to the Cardinals is not part of any grand plan.

"It was not something I ever was planning on doing," he said. "But it's something that's really cool."

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