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Ginn prepared to take on receiving role

6/16/2014
AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin

He's not quite as fast as a speeding bullet, but Ted Ginn comes close with a football in his hands.

And the faster he can go this season, the better for the Arizona Cardinals.

Speed has long been synonymous with Ginn, who has made a productive career out of being faster than the guy across from him, especially when it comes to returning punts and kicks. Anyone inside University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 8, 2007 during the first BCS National Championship Game remembers Ginn returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown -- then subsequently injuring himself during the post-touchdown celebration.

In all three of his NFL stops -- Miami, San Francisco and Carolina -- Ginn's primary responsibility was as a returner. The lone exceptions were 2008, his second year in the league, with the Dolphins, and 2013 with the Panthers. They were the only two seasons Ginn had more receptions than either punt or kick returns. In every other season, being a wide receiver was his secondary responsibility, at best. During Ginn's three seasons in San Francisco he caught 33 passes -- three less than he did last season in Carolina.

"He doesn't have that much experience as a wide out, surprisingly," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "I have no idea why."

Well, that's about to change. With the Cardinals Ginn will be primarily used as their third receiver, filling the void left by Andre Roberts, who signed with Washington during free agency. Ginn will still be charged with returning kicks and some punts, but his main duties will be alongside Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

Aside from his 56 receptions in 2008, the most catches for Ginn in a year was 38 a year later. In Roberts' last three seasons as the Cards' third receiver, he caught at least 43. Since Ginn is faster than Roberts, he'll be running deeper routes that take the cover off the defense. Last season they were given to Teddy Williams and Brittan Golden.

The 29-year-old Ginn is ready for more responsiblity.

"It ain't like I haven't played the game," he said. "It's just that I haven't had that many minutes.

"As far as being a receiver, you can't be in this league and not be active or attentive to different things. I just go out and keep continuing to push."

Early in offseason practice, Ginn showed his teammates what he picked up from his former teammates.

Ginn came in running bench, semi and bang routes, Fitzgerald said.

"It's not like it's a foreign language to him," Fitzgerald said. "He knows and understands where he needs to be. He understands the splits.

"He's very sharp in terms of picking things up. He learns really fast."

Ginn has been learning a lot from Fitzgerald, who in 2007 and 2008 combined for almost as many receptions (196 for Fitzgerald versus 197 for Ginn) and for more yards than Ginn has in his entire career (2,840 for Fitz versus 2,604 for Ginn).

Ginn is relishing the opportunity to play with Fitzgerald and quarterback Carson Palmer, both of whom have played in the NFL for 10 seasons. Ginn played with five quarterbacks in Miami, including Chad Pennington and Chad Henne. In San Francisco, Ginn caught passes from Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick and Troy Smith -- his Ohio State teammate. And during his year in Carolina, Ginn paired with Cam Newton. He's played with a handful of quality quarterbacks but none who have the longevity and experience of Palmer.

And the most experienced receiver he shared a huddle with was Steve Smith with the Panthers -- talented but no Fitzgerald.

"Oh man, you can never not learn from a big-time guy like that," Ginn said of Fitzgerald. "I haven't been with a lot of vets, no matter if it was quarterbacks or wide receiver. You just go out and you just pay attention, and you just learn. A guy like that that has been in this league for so long and holding it down like he do, he knows something.

"You'll be a fool not to pay attention to what he do and what he say. I'm a learner. I've always been like that so I just go in and pay attention.

Palmer has taken notice.

It didn't take long for Ginn to correct any mistakes he made when he first started working with Palmer and Fitzgerald. Palmer said Ginn had the "exact right mindset" when he signed with the Cards and has been "a complete professional."

"I was surprised at how quickly he grasped a lot of those concepts," Palmer said. "You can tell he's been studying in his off time and put in some time cause the mistakes he made early, he's really cut out. You rarely see his name on the correction sheet. He's been a true professional.

"I think we've all been a little bit surprised at how explosive he is and we knew he's explosive, coming in. Excited about what he can do and bring to your offense."

What Ginn adds can be summed it one word: speed. And it can kill defenses.

"Anytime you can hit a home run in one play, it's easy," Arians said. "The threat of those guys being out there is that every play you can hit one. What they do to the defense to open up everybody else, you don't have to throw it long. You hit a fast guy going across the field, it's easier for him to turn it up and go to the distance."

Arians has been pleased with Ginn's route running and catching ability, which has led to more confidence for Ginn. He'll need it as he embarks on a season as primarily a receiver. He'll still have special teams' duties and Palmer hopes Ginn will be able to give the offense shorter fields to work with.

But the Cardinals are relying on Ginn to use his speed off the line of scrimmage.

"He's a receiver first to me," Palmer said. "I'm glad he's going to be doing some special teams. I hope it's not too many. I hope he returns a punt here and there, but I want him running with the ones. We need him on the field. He makes us very dynamic."