Last season the special teams unit was the Achilles’ heel for the Arizona Cardinals, ranked as the fourth worst by Pro Football Focus. Phil Dawson was brought in last season to bring some consistency to the kicking game, which was manned by Chandler Catanzaro in 2016. But even the 43-year-old dealt with his share of struggles. He missed six field goals in the first half of the 2017 season, many that should have been easy to make for him. Fortunately for this club, he rebounded in the second half of the season making 90% of his field goals but missed three extra points. Undrafted free agent Matt McCrane is not expected to take Dawson’s job but could be a practice squad option.
The punting unit was revived when the Cardinals signed Andy Lee last season. His average of 47.3 yards per punt was a franchise record, as he finished seventh in the NFL in that category. The former Pro Bowler and All-Pro selection was awarded a two-year extension for his success, with him now under contract through the 2020 season. Aaron Brewer suffered a wrist injury during the season but returned to play eight games. He is a reliable long snapper nonetheless and he re-signed with the club on a four-year contract.
This team allowed the third-most return yards but most of the blame shouldn’t go on Lee. The coverage unit was plagued with missed tackles and miscommunication. Budda Baker certainly made a lot of big plays but with him taking the reigns as a starting safety, his special teams snaps will be limited. If Brandon Williams can’t make his mark as a cornerback, he will have to make his presence known on special teams. He was once considered to be the best special teams player in college football but has yet to live up to it at the professional level.
Now the return unit should be a lot better this season. T.J. Logan displayed his speed as a kick returner in the preseason opener last year, which was the only game he played after suffering a season-ending wrist injury. Cardinals’ second-round pick Christian Kirk was a dynamic kick and punt returner at Texas A&M and should see plenty of opportunities here. These two have a lot to offer and bring a lot of youth and speed to this aging special teams unit. They should be very exciting to watch.
Now the leader of this special teams unit is Jeff Rodgers, who previously coached with the Bears. His familiarity with Lee and Brewer should make for an easy transition with the Cardinals. Hopefully under his leadership and the return of players off of injury reserve, this unit sees some much-needed improvements.