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Retooling the Cardinals’ Special Teams

Fixing the special teams for the Arizona Cardinals.

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Arizona Cardinals Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Arizona, Jeff Rodgers. It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood now that you have arrived.

You worked with LS Aaron Brewer while you were with the, Broncos---so you know what you have in him. Steve Keim signed LS Drew Williams (6-3, 190, South Carolina) to a future’s contract---so it would seem like a good idea to re-sign Brewer (who has been solid, but not superb) and have Williams compete with him during training camp.

P Andy Lee is coming off a very good 2017 performance. 88 punts/47.3 ave./29 inside 20. Lee is due a $1M signing bonus and will count $2.63M on the cap. Very reasonable. In fact, the Cardinals might want to consider extending his contract, as he becomes a UFA in 2019.

The not so good stat on the punting team is the net average of 39.7. That’s even despite having one of the best gunners in the NFL, Pro Bowl STs player, Budda Baker. Baker was at the top of the league in tackles (12), but he missed 4 tackles as well. So, there is room for improvement.

It’s hard to say what players you will be working with this year, but some of the better STs’ players for the Cardinals, in addition to Baker, were Elijhaa Penny, Jaron Brown, Josh Bynes and Scooby Wright.

The return game needs work. The return of T.J. Logan should help the kickoff return team. Logan was working on returning punts before his wrist injury and looked like he had some promise. At North Carolina, his teammate Ryan Switzer handled the punt return duties.

D.J. Foster finally got a couple of chances to return punts late in the season and showed flashes of ability.

Steve Wilks has already said that in key situations he would be open to Patrick Peterson returning punts, once again. Coach Rodgers, if Patrick Peterson returns a punt for a TD for the first time since his rookie year, you will be hailed as the STC who put the special back in teams.

It would be a wise idea for the Cardinals to address the punt return position in the draft. Man, if they could get their hands on Christian Kirk (5-11, 200, Texas A&M) they could add the dynamic slot WR they need, plus one of the most electric punt returners in the country. Kirk had 4 TDs on returns of over 78 yards at A&M. Plus, he’s from Scottsdale. Kirk is a field flipper.

The key off-season decision is whether to retain K Phil Dawson at a hefty salary of $3.5M---or look elsewhere---either in FA, where Matt Bryant (43---Falcons), Caleb Sturgis (29---Eagles), Chandler Catanzaro (27---Jets), Ryan Succop (31---Titans) and Graham Gano (31---Panthers) are on the market. Catanzaro had a very good bounce back season with the Jets (85% of his FGs and 100% of his XPTs).

Dawson struggled big-time during the first 10 games---but later he admitted that because of the blocking scheme and personnel, he didn’t feel like he could follow through on his kicks. Down the stretch Dawson was following through and splitting the uprights.

In the draft, the top 2 prospects appear to be Daniel Carlson (6-4, 225, Auburn) and Michael Bagdley (5-10, 175, Miami), if the Cardinals want to go that route. The Eagles sure did well with rookie Jake Elliott (Memphis) after Caleb Sturgis was injured.

Coach Rodgers---two other things of note---after losing Calais Campbell to FA, the kick blocking team was not as strong (we will need an edge kick blocker if Justin Bethel is not re-signed)---and it seems like eons since the last time the Cardinals ever blocked a punt.

Steve Wilks has said that he is going to spend a good deal of time working with the STs. He said that every player on the Cardinals should understand that playing STs “is a privilege.” Hopefully with Wilks and Rodgers it will be a privilege for Cardinals’ fans to see teams that are truly special.