It was a breakthrough season for Arizona but more work needs to be done to become a playoff team.
One Achilles heel for the Red Birds was the performance of their punt and kickoff return men, a very important cog in any team's special teams contingent.
That component should be much improved in 2014 though due to the arrival of Ted Ginn, Jr. and Antonio Cromartie, two fine athletes who excel in special teams. .
The addition of Ginn gives the Red Birds a more dynamic return man than they've had in years. Cromartie can fill in if needed and gives the Red Birds excellent depth.
While Ginn will be the primary returner, Arizona’s back-up squad got a little deeper with the addition of Cromartie. In his eight-year career, Cromartie has returned 45 kicks for 1,059 yards — including six for 164 yards last season with the New York Jets. His career high is 17 for 417 yards in 2011.
It’s likely that Cromartie will be the Ginn’s primary back on kick returns because Tyrann Mathieu, Andre Ellington and Peterson have a combined four career returns. It doesn’t hurt the Cromartie’s average kick return is 23.53 yards, about a quarter yard longer than Ginn’s.
Only Ginn has returned a kickoff for a touchdown from the group, with three career scores. When it comes to punt returns, Cromartie has seven for a total of 40 yards compared to Ginn’s 156 for 1,741 yards and Peterson’s 128 for 1,323 yards.
Having another option with Cromartie gives a little peace of mind to the Red Birds' coaching staff. They like his versatility.
“The good news is we have multiple options now,” Arizona general manager Steve Keim told espn.com. "Obviously, Patrick has had the return stuff in the past. Tyrann is coming off the injury from being in the return game. I think Ted Ginn is a guy who really gives us flexibility in the type of returner that he has become. But I don’t think you can ever have enough upper-echelon athletes who can be difference makers in the return game. Obviously now having Pat, Tyrann, Antonio and Ted Ginn, I think it’s a huge plus for us.”
No doubt about it. Look for significant progress from Arizona's special teams corps in 2014. It could be the key to a special season for the Cardinals.
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Tags: Antonio Cromartie, Arizona, Arizona Cardinals, Football, NFL, Steve Keim