Cardinals roster questions, wild cards: Who is the team’s primary return specialist?
Jul 26, 2023, 10:04 AM
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
The Arizona Cardinals look a whole lot different than they did this time a year ago.
And with a reset in culture, coaching staff and front office comes a reset in the roster.
Each position group has undergone change this offseason, from quarterback to special teams.
Rounding out the 11-part series is Arizona’s special teams unit.
The Arizona Cardinals’ big roster questions: Special teams
1. Who is the team’s primary punt and kick returner?
With Pharoh Cooper and Eno Benjamin no longer on the team, the only returning return man from a year ago is wide receiver Greg Dortch.
Recording 11 kick return attempts and 26 punts last season, Dortch appears to be the leader in the clubhouse when it comes to those duties in 2023.
That doesn’t mean that the Cardinals don’t have options.
Two names that come to mind are Rondale Moore and Michael Wilson, depending on their usage from an offensive standpoint.
We have already seen the former in the role, with Moore fielding 13 kicks and 21 punts as a rookie.
Wilson meanwhile saw some action as a returner early on during his time at Stanford, returning four kicks and 20 returns from 2018-20.
2. Can Matt Prater stay accurate and available in Year 17?
Prater has been around the block a time or two and still finds ways to get it done.
The veteran kicker was 88% (22-of-25) last season after posting an 81% mark the year prior (30-of-37). Prater’s 2022 was his fourth-best from an accuracy standpoint.
Since taking over full-time as the Denver Broncos kicker in 2008, Prater has yet to see his accuracy drop below 73.5%.
Unfortunately for Prater, last season also came with injury issues that forced the kicker to the sideline for four games and forced the Cardinals to not only add legs off the street but also alter their game plans to avoid kicking field goals when possible.
That, along with the handful of other head-scratching moves former head coach Kliff Kingsbury made last year, added to the disaster we all witnessed on the football field.
Of the three outside kickers brought in, only one, Tristan Vizcaino, converted all of his field goals (2-for-2) and extra points (3-for-3).
When Prater is on the field, the confidence is there. Leading the entire team in points scored (220) since his arrival proves that.
But when he’s off of it, things get really shaky.
The wild Card
With longtime Cardinals punter Andy Lee no longer on the team, all signs point to former Arizona State Sun Devil Matt Haack taking over the reins in 2023.
Haack, who marks the newest member of a trio that also makes up returners Prater and long snapper Aaron Brewer, returns to the desert after spending parts of six seasons with the Miami Dolphins (2017-20), Buffalo Bills (2021) and Indianapolis Colts (2022).
The ASU alum put up some of his best numbers with the Colts last season, averaging 44.8 yards per punt. He booted 28 of his 70 punts inside the 20, registered just three touchbacks and posted a career-long punt of 70 yards.
He’ll have some big shoes to fill taking over for the three-time All-Pro in Lee. And considering the expected offensive limitations, he could be busy in 2023.
Punter Nolan Cooney, who first joined Arizona in 2022, is also in the mix for Arizona.