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Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson cites schemes, youth on special teams for decline in punt return production

LISTEN: Patrick Peterson, Cardinals Pro Bowl cornerback

As a rookie, Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson was prolific as a punt returner.

Historic, actually.

During the 2011 season, Peterson set or tied three NFL records, including most punt return touchdowns in a season (4), longest game-winning punt return touchdown in overtime (99 yards) and most punt return yards by a rookie (699).

A lot has changed for the three-time Pro Bowler since.

He has failed to reach the end zone each of the last two season, and in 2013 he accumulated 198 total return yards on 33 attempts — good for the third-worst average (6.0 yards/attempt) in the league.

Peterson offered up a possible explanation for the steep decline in production.

“Since my rookie year, teams know when they play the Cardinals they have to pay attention to No. 21,” Peterson said while a guest on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM’s Bickley and Marotta Thursday. “My rookie year, I’m not saying that didn’t pay attention to me, but guys really didn’t know what I could do.

“Now there’s more of a scheme. Guys are punting away from me. And they’re drafting guys just for special teams that can go down and do a good job, bottle me up and make it tough for me to make plays.”

While the former No. 5 overall pick is certainly a known commodity these days, he also suggested that part of the problem has been caused from within.

“I don’t want to put anyone under the bus, but I think we had a lot of young guys the previous two years on special teams who didn’t understand what it took to get me to the end zone,” said Peterson. “My rookie year, we had a bunch of starters and a bunch of veterans on that team that understood how special and how important special teams were.

“Now, you have these young guys coming into the league that just don’t quite get it or they’re just happy to be in the league. I think that’s part of it.”

Although he only played three games with Arizona in 2013, one of the Cardinals’ special teams veterans, former Pro Bowler Lorenzo Alexander, noted that Peterson’s comments were pretty factual.

The Cardinals might be alleviating the return game issue altogether heading into 2014, but the solution doesn’t appear to involve bulking of the unit with more experienced personnel.

Instead, the organization signed veteran free agent Ted Ginn, Jr. to a three-year deal this offseason, and then proceeded to draft speedster John Brown out of Pittsburg State in the third round of this month’s draft.

Head coach Bruce Arians hinted that those transactions were made in attempt to ‘ease up’ on Peterson’s responsibilities, primarily as a punt return.

Should that be that case come September, Peterson admitted he wouldn’t be the least bit upset about it.

Quite the opposite.

“I am cool with it,” said Peterson about possibly being taken off punt return duty. “I think that would make my job easier, because I could focus on the defensive side.

“As a playmaker and as a guy who loves to have the ball in his hands, it’s going to be tough in the beginning. But at the end of the day, I think Coach [Arians] is trying to keep me healthy for as long as possible. Keep me out of harm’s way.”