With Pro Bowlers Sean Morey and Neil Rackers gone, several newcomers have been added to the mix on Arizona’s special teams. The faces may be different but the goal remains the same. Making plays and creating opportunities on both sides of the ball will continue to be the focal point of the team’s unit during the upcoming season.
One of Arizona’s most consistent weapons last year was the production of punter Ben Graham. In 2009, the Aussie downed 47 punts inside the 20-yard line and had just three touchbacks all season. Furthermore, Graham sported a 47-yard punting average, good for third in the NFL on his way to his first Pro Bowl selection.
Graham was also seventh in net punting average courtesy of excellent coverage by Matt Ware, Michael Adams and company. In addition, Graham’s accuracy allowed Arizona to control field position by downing several punts deep in the opposition’s territory. With Paris Lenon and Justin Miller potentially joining an already talented and successful group, expectations should be high for the coverage unit again.
The return game is where things get interesting. With Steve Breaston moving into a starting role at wide receiver, training camp will feature a battle at punt returner. Rookie Andre Roberts is one of the early favorites to win the job. Roberts racked up nearly 1,000 return yards and three touchdowns in his college career at The Citadel. Fellow rookie Jorrick Calvin and former Pro Bowl returner Justin Miller will also be a factor. Miller also figures to be in the mix at kick returner, where LaRod Stephens-Howling shined during his rookie campaign. The “Hyphen” totaled 1,257 yards and a touchdown in 2009 and hopes to be even better in year two.
Jay Feely takes over the placekicking duties for Neil Rackers and will attempt to continue the recent success he experienced with the New York Jets. In 2009, Feely connected on 24 consecutive field goals at one point. Feely is a solid veteran with playoff experience and an 81% kicking average for his career. However, he has a tendency to be streaky at times. Arizona signed Feely to be a consistent contributor who can make the game-winning kick when needed.
A single play on special teams can often make or break a game and coaching makes all the difference. Special teams coach Kevin Spencer has turned this unit into one of the most improved in the league in large part due to consistency and discipline. Spencer must continue to preach these ideals to the newest Cardinals in order to keep their performance at a high level.
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