Wilks: Cardinals special teams to be a priority with Jeff Rodgers
After being tabbed as the Arizona Cardinals’ special teams coordinator, Jeff Rodgers is tasked with fixing one of the league’s worst special teams units.
Rodgers came to the Cardinals following a three-year stint as special teams coordinator of the Chicago Bears. His 14 years of coaching in the NFL include additional stop with San Francisco, Carolina and Denver.
Between Rodgers and first-year head coach Steve Wilks, the importance of special teams has been re-emphasized moving forward.
“Special teams is just as important as offense as it is defense,” Wilks said while introducing Rodgers on Tuesday. “It’s not going to take a backseat to what we’re trying to do. It’s going to be a major part of our success.”
From the retirement of Bruce Arians came the departure of former special teams coach Amos Jones, a move that some fans adamantly called for during his time with Arizona. In five seasons, the Cardinals were ranked in the bottom six by Football Outsiders’ DVOA special teams metric.
Part of the adjustment in Arizona is going to be securing versatile players capable of playing on special teams in addition to offense or defense. While special teams members Justin Bethel, T.J. Logan and Budda Baker are returning, no spots will be handed out under the new regime.
With Rodgers and Wilks expected to evaluate the roster prior to the draft, younger players will likely get their chances with the Cardinals on special teams.
“We’re going to do a great job in evaluation of going through the process with the draft and trying to get guys that are going to come in, and not only play offense and defense but understand that being on special teams is a privilege,” Wilks told the media. “If you want to impress me, impress me on special teams.”
One future area of uncertainty in the return game is the role of All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson. With breakaway speed and elusiveness, Peterson is a threat any time he touches the ball and even drew comparisons to a top kick returner.
“I thought coming out, up until that point, I thought Devin Hester was the best to ever come out of college. I’ve got a DVD, Devin Hester college returns … I was always going to keep that and if somebody came out and said ‘alright this guy is Devin Hester or is as good or whatever, let’s break out the tape,” Rodgers told the media. “He [Peterson] was the first one I broke out the tape for.”
The likelihood of Peterson serving as the full-time punt returner is slim as risk outweighs reward although Wilks did not rule out the possibility of using him as a kick returner.
Through evaluating the team, Wilks and Rodgers will look to quickly rebuild special teams and jump back into contention in a very competitive NFC West division.
“We’ve got to be very selective. Most importantly we’ve got to be smart about our decisions.”
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