Dealing Cards: New punter Matt Wile says holding ‘went smoothly’ this week in practice
TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals signed a new punter earlier this week, and based on what Matt Wile did while he was with the Atlanta Falcons, he’s got quite a leg.
In one game with the Falcons — incidentally, against the Cardinals — he punted twice with an average of 58 yards per kick, and a net average of 52 yards.
Wile was released by Atlanta just a few days later, and with the Cardinals’ own punter, Drew Butler, struggling, he was given a tryout. The former Michigan Wolverine did enough to earn a spot on the practice squad — at least for now.
Because although Wile may be able to kick the ball better than Butler, who is averaging 41.3 yards per punt this season but has a net average of just 35.4 yards, if he is to replace the incumbent he will have to prove capable of holding on field goals and extra points.
On Wednesday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said because Wile had never been a holder before, the goal for the week was to work with him on that and see if he could improve enough to be relied upon.
The vast majority of NFL teams use their punter in that role, and because of that, it may be a bit surprising that Wile lacks experience in that area. But, he has his reasons.
“I did all three in college, kicked off, punted and kicked field goals, so I never held in college,” he said. “But I worked on it a lot and held this week. It went smoothly.”
As a senior in college, Wile averaged 63 yards on 52 kickoffs, with 24 going for touchbacks. He made 15-of-21 field goal attempts that season — with a long of 48 — but punted just once, for 44 yards.
The previous season, however, he was the Wolverines’ primary punter, and averaged 40.6 yards on 61 punts, with 10 kicks of 50 or more yards and 16 that landed inside the opponents’ 20 yard line.
As far as holding is concerned, he said the biggest challenge lies with simply doing it.
“It’s more just repetition,” he said. “But once I got it down I’m comfortable doing it. The biggest challenge is making sure the kicker likes the way you’re doing it, just because every kicker is a little different.”
Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro has had a couple different holders this season in Drew Butler and then Ryan Quigley, and seems to have found a bit of a groove in making seven of his last eight field goal attempts and 29-of-30 extra points.
Wile, who as also spent time with the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys, said all of the Cardinals’ specialists have been very helpful since he arrived, and that he felt like he kicked the ball “decently well” the last few days.
“Just always need to get better, though,” he said.
As for his role going forward, Wile, who until otherwise noted will remain on the practice squad, was told to be coachable and ready to learn. On Wednesday, Arians didn’t sound optimistic that anyone could learn how to hold in just a few days’ time, and until the coach is comfortable with Wile, it’s not likely he will be elevated to the 53-man roster.
At the same time, Arians and the Cardinals coaches were at least impressed enough with Wile’s ability to kick the ball that they brought him in, so he’s got that going for him.
“I think that’s why I got the tryout, but I think they just want somebody to come in and work and compete,” Wile said.
The final injury report of the week can be found here, and for the Cardinals, only one player has been ruled out for Sunday’s game: Tyrann Mathieu.
The safety did not practice at all this week as he is deals with a shoulder injury that has forced him to miss what will now be four of the last five games.
“He’s getting a lot better,” Arians said. “They’re still contemplating surgery, but I don’t think that’s going to be necessary.”
The coach said the combination of range of motion and strength is where Mathieu is trying to improve, but is.
“Being able to use it, defend himself, tackle, go up high and intercept the ball,” he said. “So all those things that he needs it for — blitzing and taking on blockers — so, again, I want to be careful and make sure he doesn’t re-injure it and need surgery.”
Back where he started
The Cardinals have just one player with ties to this week’s opponent, as right tackle Ulrick John spent parts of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with Miami’s practice squad.
Signed by the Cardinals on Oct. 8, he is now returning to face his former team as a starting right tackle.
“It’s going to be fun,” John said. “I’m going to enjoy going out there and being able to play against the guys I’ve been practicing against for the past year, at least. So it’ll be fun. I’m really excited for it.”
John will be making his third career start — all with the Cardinals — and while he feels like he may have a bit of an edge because he knows, more or less, what the Dolphins’ fearsome front will give him, he understands what he saw in practice will not exactly correlate to what happens in an actual game.
“You kind of have to up the ante a little bit when you get to game time,” he said.
On a personal level, John has been working to up his own game. He said there are small things he is still working on and trying to correct, but otherwise feels like he is getting better and learning from his coaches.
He’s a different player now than when he was last with the Dolphins. A little older, a little wiser and, of course, a little more in the starting lineup for a team fighting to make the playoffs. That, he admitted, was not something he anticipated just a couple months ago.
“I did not think that was in the future,” he said. “I was hopeful that I would end up active somewhere, but never did it cross my mind, you know what, you might be starting somewhere soon. So, I mean, that was pretty awesome when it did happen.”
There will be Smoke
Receiver John Brown was held out of practice Wednesday before getting back on the field for some work Thursday and then a little more Friday. He is listed as “questionable” for Sunday’s game, though it sounds like he will be able to play.
Brown, of course, is dealing with his sickle-cell trait, which has proven to be challenging to manage. But, there is a sense that everyone is learning. Hence, his new practice schedule.
“I feel like it’s helping, but I guess that it’s so late right now it’s taking a little time to go away,” Brown said. “But it’s really helping, you know, the coaches and the staff are doing a good job.”
The illness has been a key cog in what has been a disappointing season for Brown, a third-year pro who caught 65 passes for 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns last season but has managed just 31 receptions for 399 yards and one score this year.
He played just 21 snaps in last Sunday’s win over the Washington Redskins, which was a number Arians said they will probably look to keep him around, at least until they know how to handle things.
Brown, however, is confident his snap count will rise as the season progresses.
“Like I said, they’re doing a great job with it and I’ll be ready to go,” he said.