TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been two years since Patrick Peterson returned a punt for the Arizona Cardinals, a drought that is expected to end this season, perhaps as early Week 1.
“I hinted at you guys (in the offseason),” he said.
He did, and head coach Bruce Arians confirmed the possibility Wednesday.
“Pat will have special duties,” he said, smiling.
Exactly what those duties involve, Arians was not forthcoming, for good reason, obviously. No sense in tipping off the New Orleans Saints or any future opponent, for that matter.
Last season, the Cardinals ranked ninth, averaging 10.7 yards per punt return, on the sixth-fewest attempts (26) of any team in the league. One of those resulted in a touchdown, a 71-yard score by Ted Ginn, Jr. against the New York Giants on Sept. 14.
Ginn has since been released and replaced by rookie J.J. Nelson — whom the Cardinals drafted in the fifth-round out of Alabama-Birmingham — and apparently Peterson, though he hasn’t been told specifics either.
“Coach did come to me and told me that I may have the opportunity to field a couple of punts,” Peterson said. “But I’m just doing my every day due diligence of going out there (in practice) catching punts, making sure when my number is called that I’m more than ready.”
Peterson made his initial mark on the NFL as a punt returner.
As a rookie in 2011, Peterson tied the league’s single-season record and set the franchise all-time record with four punt return touchdowns. His 699 punt return yards established both a rookie record and franchise single-season record, as well as ranking as the second-highest single-season total in NFL history.
That year, Peterson earned his first Pro Bowl nod and first-team All-Pro selection.
“It’s not long ago I was back there on punt return,” he said, “so I mean I’m not going to lose that much, but when (Arians) told me that yesterday I was very, very ecstatic. So, now I know that the opportunity is definitely true and is going to appear to me on, hopefully, on Sunday.”
Peterson struggled to match his rookie production in the two seasons that followed.
He averaged a career-low six yards a return in 2013.
Arians had punt return duties removed completely from Peterson’s plate a year ago, allowing him to concentrate solely on defense.
It appears now, if nothing else, Peterson will be on call in 2015.
“I’m an offensive guy playing defense, so I love to have the ball in my hands. Having the opportunity to go out there and field punts again, I think that’s just going to take my game to the next game because, like I told you guys all the time, I love being on the field and being on the field that extra down means I have the opportunity to do something special,” he said.
“Definitely missed returning punts because playing special teams you can win and lose games back there. My rookie year I won a couple games by myself. I can remember the overtime game against Cleveland, putting the offense in field goal range. The four games I scored, except for one against Baltimore, we won those games, so I thought I had a huge helping hand in our team’s success in that year. If I’m able to do that — not only me, Brittan (Golden) is back there as well and J.J. Nelson, so I mean we have guys that’s definitely capable of taking the ball the distance.”
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