TEMPE, Arizona – WHEN Arizona Cardinals close end Bernhard Seikovits When he looks back on his path to the NFL, he thinks he should have been a little more patient, maybe even a little more objective.
Thanks in retrospect.
The NFL was not on Seikovits’ radar when he played for the Vienna Vikings of the Austrian Football League in his home country. Then the NFL invited him to their International Combine in Germany in autumn 2019. From there he was invited to the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program (IPPP) and began training at the IMG Academy in Florida. But that opportunity was dashed by the pandemic and he was not assigned to any NFL team.
He was discouraged, but he didn’t let his new goal of playing in the NFL put a damper on him.
“If I had seen it a little more objectively, I might have said to myself: ‘Yes, it might be a two-year thing,'” said 23-year-old Seikovits. “But when I walked in, of course I went in and thought I was doing a really good job and thought a team would pick me. So of course I was very disappointed.
“But my family and friends really rebuilt me after the decision and I really used that as a motivation for the next year, so I really spent the last year getting better, stronger and faster.”
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Seikovits, a former quarterback, moved from wide receiver to tight end after the NFL International Combine. The NFL wanted him to compete in the IPPP because of his 6-foot-5 frame, which he launched as a tight end on January 23, 2020. They also advised him to start gaining weight, a recommendation he took to heart.
Seikovits returned to Vienna and honed his skills at the narrow end, getting help from his coaching staff. He went to the Vikings gym every day and even built a weightlifting platform in a friend’s garage so he could work out outside of the team’s facility. It paid off. He now weighs 262 pounds and is built like a tight end.
The offensive coordinator of the Vienna Vikings, Max Kössler, adapted the offensive to Seikovits, who played “sporadically” in the tight end before last season.
“I only used it as a close end to give them the chance to prove their skills and try to train them as well as possible,” said Kössler. “And just to put a few short pieces on the film.”
Head coach Chris Calaycay added, “That was a big part of our 2020 season to make sure he was able to film that and work on it.”
Seikovits ended the season with lots of good shots to show off NFL teams. He ended 2020 with 21 catches for 262 yards and four touchdowns in three games. His stats from last season brought him to career highs in all three categories.
Seikovits was given another chance at this year’s IPPP and with a better understanding of the position, particularly tight-end game schemes and improved techniques, he was selected and assigned to the Cardinals in early May.
Kössler, who has known Seikovits since he was 11, called and just yelled excitedly into the phone. Seikovits will be on the squad until the end of the training camp and then be eligible for either a training squad exemption for international players or for the active squad.
“I couldn’t be happier, to be honest, that they didn’t pick me last year,” said Seikovits. “Well, I think whatever life goes, it always has meaning and I’m really glad I ended up here.
“And I wouldn’t have been here if they picked me last year so I’m glad how it went.”
Seikovits, who attended the Cardinals rookie minicamp in May, isn’t nervous about going into the field with veterans. The last two years have built on this moment.
“He has great ball skills and great hands and great football awareness,” said Calaycay.
Seikovits has a rare combination of size and speed. He can block like a tight end, move like a receiver and see the field from the perspective of a quarterback. If you add it all up, Seikovits may have what it takes to be a team.
“He played – and still plays the game – with the eyes of a quarterback, so route adjustments and changes in the blocking scheme depending on the front movement were a matter of course,” said Kössler.
Seikovit’s first throw as quarterback was an interception, but he bounced back to throw more than 400 yards and six touchdowns in that game, Koessler said. He played the position until the Vikings added Kevin Burke, an American quarterback who went to Case Western and played for the Memphis Express of the now-defunct Alliance of American Football, before being released and replaced by Johnny Manziel. When Burke was signed by the Vikings, Seikovits asked to change position so he could play, which kicked off his promotion to the NFL.
Still, General Manager Steve Keim’s call to welcome him to the Cardinals made Seikovits “a little anxious”.
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He’s seen a lot of NFL football, be it on local channels in Vienna or through the NFL Game Pass. The schedule at 1:00 p.m. ET began at 7:00 p.m. in Vienna, at prime viewing time. Seikovits knows that watching games for hours will not be the same as seeing it up close on the field.
“It’s getting more physical, faster,” he said. “But at some point I think that it comes down to effort and work ethic, and how much you want it? And I really don’t know. I never saw a live NFL game and never practiced with the guys I saw it on TV. So of course I don’t know what to expect, but I’m looking forward to it. “
Calaycay believes Seikovits’ skills will fit nicely into Cardianl’s manager Kliff Kingsbury’s scheme, creating mismatches for tight ends – something in the shape of the former Cardinals tight end Dan Arnoldwho is now with the Panthers.
Koessler believes it may be a year or two before Seikovits gets his chance on Sundays.
Seikovits has been playing football since he was nine, then flag football. A year later he switched to football. Like almost every child in Europe, Seikovits’ foray into the sport began with football, but he wasn’t enjoying it enough to get involved. He also tried swimming when he was around 5 because his father was a swimmer, but it got bored of “looking into the water for two hours”.
The team aspect and the physicality of football attracted Seikovits more and more.
“What I like most about football is the physicality,” he said. “You can do things that you really can’t do in real life, like beat people and you can basically just go crazy sometimes.
“Well, this is really, I don’t know, this really excites me.”