Special Teams Off-season Analysis

KR Steve Breaston (Otto Greule Jr./Getty)

The Cardinals have done an admirable job of collecting elite special teams players over the last few years. They hope to continue that trend next year as they look to up their win total and make a push for the playoffs.

Neil Rackers, arguably one of the best place-kickers in the NFL, had perhaps the worst season of his career in 2007. He hit on only 21 of 30 field goals attempts (70 percent). While this might not appear to be all that dreadful, consider that it was his worst percentage since joining Arizona in 2003.

Rackers only missed one of his 48 extra point attempts, which came on a block in Week 7 against the Washington Redskins. He averaged 64.6 yards per kickoff and recorded 17 touchbacks, second in the NFL. The Cardinals hope Rackers can return to his 2005 form, when he hit a career-high 95 percent of his field goals.

In 2006, punter Scott Player ranked sixth in punt average with 44.9 yards per punt. All signs pointed to Player being the man again in 2007; however, he was beaten out in training camp by 28-year-old Mike Barr, who was signed on a waiver claim in the preseason.

Barr was released in late November after mustering only a 40.4-yard average. He was replaced by 12-year veteran Mitch Berger, who didn't fair much better, posting a 40.7-yard average on 20 attempts to finish out the season.

Return duties were handled primarily by rookie Steve Breaston. Taken in the fifth round of last year's draft, Breaston was a breath of fresh air for special teams coach Kevin Spencer.

Breaston returned a team-high 62 kicks for 1,391 yards. He also took every punt the Cardinals received last season, returning one for a score. Barring injury, the team will utilize Breaston again in 2008 for the majority of its return needs.

Third-year man J.J. Arrington returned 11 kicks for 251 yards. However, the coaching staff has not placed much confidence in his ability to return kicks or carry the ball on offense. If a more serviceable backup can be found, Arrington will not be back next season.

Overall, the Cardinals stack up well on special teams. The only move the team might make in this area would be at punter. It is unclear at this juncture whether Mitch Berger will be retained.

Expect the team to bring in a few free agents for workouts; Jeff Feagles and Todd Sauerbrun are two names the team could look at. However, they may decide to turn to the draft to find a replacement.

The most notable punters in the draft are Mike Dragosavich (North Dakota), Durant Brooks (Georgia Tech) and Ken DeBauche (Wisconsin).

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