Camp K notes: QB Streveler among Cardinals’ special teams questions
Arizona Cardinals assistant head coach and special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers has all the decisions to make and so few chances to help himself make them.
There was no offseason due to the coronavirus. The training camp roster is smaller than usual and there are no preseason games. The Cardinals can’t even head to the outdoor furnace for outdoor reps. Last year, they didn’t until late in camp.
Getting to know new guys is downright difficult, and so the poster boy for Rodgers navigating the next four weeks might be third-string quarterback Chris Streveler. The Cardinals aim to utilize him as package-specific athlete at quarterback, but they will also want him to play on special teams, using all of their 53 roster spots efficiently.
“I don’t think there’s any secret we’re trying to figure out what he can do,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “I’m trying to expose him to as many things as we can and find out what he’s good at. We’re kind of progressing as we go with him. I don’t want to throw him into a full live period when he’s never covered a kick this early, but we’re getting to that.
“He’s a heck of an athlete, he’s a good leader. He’s picked up on stuff quick — quarterbacks by nature are pretty smart people. It’s not figuring the stuff out, it’s just how many times has he used his hands to block somebody and how many times has he tackled people? It’s all new.”
That’s the case for many other undrafted rookies and newcomers who can stick on a roster by winning a special teams job. Rodgers is comfortable teaching good athletes completely foreign concepts to make that transition.
But this offseason is just different.
Rodgers must develop players without many live reps. And even if he gives responsibilities to returning players he knows well already, he admitted that his research shows how shortened offseasons have hurt early-season special teams execution in the past.
“I’m not going to share all my research with you guys, but there’s certainly some things that have been indicative of the past when there’s been a limited offseason,” Rodgers said.
Just two full days of padded practices into this thing, there are a lot of questions yet to be answered.
Punt returns: Christian Kirk is an option and Rodgers said he could win the job even if he is relied upon heavily on offense. That said:
“I think in terms of roster balance, if you have two players that are equally as good at something and one guy plays 60 snaps on offense or defense and the other guy is kind of a role player … you certainly go with the guy who’s a role player,” the special teams coordinator added.
Kick returns: Second-year receiver Andy Isabella has progressed as a kick return man after dabbling in it a year ago, Rodgers said. He’s the most obvious choice considering his flat speed, but it’s expected some backup running backs or an undrafted rookie receiver could make a case in the coming weeks.
Gunner: Receiver Trent Sherfield is in competition with draft picks Isabella and KeeSean Johnson to earn offensive snaps, but it’s his strong play as a gunner last year that also stood out. Charles Washington and Isabella are in the mix at gunner, but Rodgers said a fourth player is to-be-determined.
Rookie ILB Isaiah Simmons: Will he get special teams duties? Rodgers said that, generally, all the of the new players and rookies will get looks across the board.
“We’re kind of exposing them to everything,” Rodgers said, adding, “you still have a limitation of how many guys you use on gameday and whether Isaiah plays extensively on teams or whether he has a limited role, it’s going to have to do with his defensive role and how that progresses — and how he does for (special teams).”
The guys who are not a question
Kicker Zane Gonzalez, punter Andy Lee and long snapper Aaron Brewer are back for Arizona after putting together fine 2019 seasons.
As for Gonzalez, who earned a Pro Bowl alternate selection, hit 88.6% of his kicks and then was rewarded with a new contract, it’s just about replicating his success.
“Talking to (Gonzalez) at the end of the season, there wasn’t anything he was really trying to tweak,” Rodgers said. “He was trying to stay the course. He felt like the things that we did last year were working for him. When you’re in the offseason by yourself and you’re going to kick, like, you don’t have a camera crew with you. So unless you’re doing the cell phone-tripod-hit record, you don’t see yourself on tape specifically with a snap-hold-kick.”
Now, Gonzalez has film to make sure his technique and timing with his holder and snapper are up to par.
“There’s stuff that he’ll pick up or I’ll pick up … but you’re talking about very, very minor things,” Rodgers said.
— There was no update about the
holdout injury status of wideout DeAndre Hopkins (hamstring), who in a tweet on Monday said a source told him he is actually injured.
“DeAndre is still working through his injury and hoping sooner than later on him,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury added Tuesday.
— Kingsbury on how cornerback Patrick Peterson has looked so far: “He’s got the eye of the tiger this year, that’s for sure.”
— Speaking of “looks in their eyes,” Kingsbury said second-year receivers Isabella and Johnson have stood out as they try to give the Cardinals head coach a reason to give them snaps.
— Outside linebacker Chandler Jones took a veteran’s day off on Tuesday with Arizona in the middle of six straight days of training camp.