Arizona Cardinals: Bryan McCann

Among the five staples on the Arizona Cardinals' special teams -- kicker, punter, long snapper, kick returner, punt returner -- only two positions are a given heading into camp.

Veteran long snapper Mike Leach, who's entering his 15th year in the NFL, and punter Dave Zastudil won't be competing for their jobs. The rest of special teams, however, will be decided during the next month.

Leach is one of the league's iron men, having played in 184 straight games entering this season. Zastudil is coming off one of his strongest seasons despite finishing 2013 with his fewest punts in 15 or more games since 2008. But his average of 45.7 yards and net of 40.1 yards were both the second highest for his career.

The battle at kicker is a three-legged race between incumbent Jay Feely, Danny Hrapmann and rookie Chandler Catanzaro. That Cardinals coach Bruce Arians is making Feely compete for his job comes as no surprise since Arians gave Dan Carpenter a shot to unseat Jay Feely late in camp a year ago. Feely hit 30 of 36 field-goal attempts last season, including game winners at Tennessee in overtime and at Tampa Bay. He missed two from 20-29 yards and from longer than 50 throughout the season. Hrapmann kicked in college in 2011 but hasn't caught on with an NFL team for regular-season action. Catanzaro missed 15 field goals during his four years at Clemson but just one in each of his last two seasons.

When it came to returning punts for the Cardinals for the past three years, there was no doubt who'd be deep to receive. Patrick Peterson made his name in the NFL as a punt returner as a rookie in 2011 but he's evolved into one of the league's top cornerbacks since. That's why Arians said earlier this offseason that Peterson's days as a punt returner are limited. His replacement will be determined during camp but it'll come down to either Ted Ginn, John Brown, Walt Powell or Bryan McCann. Jerraud Powers, Antonio Cromartie and Justin Bethel will also probably take reps during camp. Last season, Ginn returned 26 punts for 316 yards.

But when it comes to kick returns, it's likely Ginn's job to lose.

Arizona didn't re-sign last year's primary kick returner, Javier Arenas, and inked Ginn during the offseason as a third receiver and returner. In 2013, Ginn returned 25 kicks for 595 yards with the Panthers. Arians also mentioned during the offseason that John Brown will be given a chance to return kicks. While the battle will come down to those two, Ginn holds the upper hand.
McCann
TEMPE, Ariz. -- He wasn't high on their priority list this offseason, but by re-signing defensive back Bryan McCann, the Cardinals have given themselves some flexibility and cushion at nickel back.

While second-year safety Tyrann Mathieu is recovering from his ACL and LCL injuries, McCann will likely compete for Mathieu's nickel job. His experience and familiarity with the Cardinals' defense will help his case come training camp. But it's very unlikely that McCann will compete for a cornerback job.

Arizona signed McCann to a one-year contract Monday. His versatility made him an attractive asset.

Last season, McCann was released after training camp and was re-signed on Nov. 19 to be Arizona's gunner opposite Justin Bethel. With Mathieu's return still undetermined and with Teddy Williams recovering from an Achilles injury, McCann may again be the starting gunner opposite Bethel when training camp begins.

Coaches were pleased with McCann's performance for the final month-and-a-half last season, and with his speed, that pair at gunner could even start the season.
Starters: Justin Bethel, Javier Arenas, Bryan McCann, Teddy Williams

Under contract in 2014: Bethel, Williams

Cash committed in ‘13: $1,567,235

Cap committed in ‘13: $1,595,791

Recap: Although Patrick Peterson didn’t make the Pro Bowl as a punt returner, the Cardinals can boast that their 2013 special teams’ unit produced two all-stars -- Peterson and gunner Justin Bethel. Bethel was the perfect complement to punter Dave Zastudil on Arizona’s punt defense because of his ability to beat the double – and sometimes triple – teams to the returner, limiting opponents to just 9 yards per return. But for as good as Bethel was in stopping returners, Peterson and Arenas struggled to find a rhythm returning punts and kicks, respectively, last season. Peterson averaged 6 yards per return last season while Arenas averaged 21.4 yards per kickoff return, only returning about 61 percent of his attempts past the 20, according to ESPN Stats & Information. As for Bryan McCann and Teddy Williams, the two split time as gunners the second half of the season, with McCann taking over when Williams tore his Achilles in Jacksonville.
Cornerback Bryan McCann has never started a game in his four seasons in the NFL, but his agent hopes that’ll change in 2014.

McCann
“We’re looking for a starting spot,” John Biggins told ESPN.com. “That’s his desire. I believe he can do that.”

Biggins expects talks with the Cardinals to intensify after free agency starts on March 11, which gives Arizona time to evaluate players at the NFL combine as well as those free agents the team wants to pursue.

McCann is one of the Cardinals’ 15 unrestricted agents heading into the offseason. He spent last training camp with the team before being released on Sept. 1. McCann was re-signed on Nov. 19 in place of Teddy Williams, who went down with an Achilles injury. For the rest of the season, McCann played solely on special teams, primarily as a gunner opposite Justin Bethel.

It’s unlikely Bethel will become one of Arizona’s starting cornerbacks but Biggins believes McCann can find a role as a third corner in nickel packages, a job that was occupied by versatile safety Tyrann Mathieu last season until he was injured in Week 14 and then assumed by veteran corner Antoine Cason.

However, McCann’s best chance at making the 2014 Cardinals is as a kick returner and gunner. Arizona’s kick returner last season was Javier Arenas, an unrestricted free agent who didn’t impress in 2013.

“Ultimately, I think that he’s an excellent returner,” Biggins said. “He wasn’t afforded the opportunity to return kicks or punts. I think they’ll give him the opportunity to do that. He’s electric. He scored when he was doing that with the Cowboys.”

McCann, who played at Southern Methodist University in Texas, had two touchdowns his rookie season, 2010, with Dallas. One was a 101-yard interception return and the other was a 97-yard punt return. He may get an opportunity as a backup corner but the punt return duties are Patrick Peterson’s for the duration of his stay in Arizona.

Biggins expressed McCann’s desire to return to the Cardinals, which he expects to happen based on McCann’s exit interviews with Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, general manager Steve Keim and other coaches.

“Based on my conversations with them, I expect the Cardinals to sign him,” Biggins said. “He believes the Cardinals are a team on the rise. He likes playing with them.”

Cards' free-agency look: Cornerback

February, 13, 2014
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There is one certainty at cornerback for the Arizona Cardinals in 2014.

That is Patrick Peterson. The three-time Pro Bowl corner enters his fourth season as one of the foundations of the Cards’ defense. He will for sure be on one side of the field, lining up across the opponent’s best receiver. But it's unclear who will start opposite Peterson.

Ponder
Powers
Last season it was Jerraud Powers, a cerebral player who Cardinals coach Bruce Arians brought with him from Indianapolis. Despite leading the Cardinals’ corners with nine missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus, he was the most productive cornerback on the roster. He had a secondary-best 14 pass breakups and disrupted 15 dropbacks according to ESPN Stats & Information. He also led Arizona's cornerbacks with 65 tackles.

But there is a chance -- a good chance -- that Powers could be a cap casualty because his cap number jumps to $4.75 million in 2014. Then what would the Cardinals do?

Arizona is scheduled to lose cornerbacks Antoine Cason, Javier Arenas and Bryan McCann to free agency on March 11, but that might not be a bad thing. The crop of free agent cornerbacks is strong, but could be expensive. Last offseason, Arians and general manager Steve Keim stocked the position with inexpensive talent. Only Cason of that group made more than $1 million.

There are some big names on the market this year, such as Asante Samuel, who was cut by the Atlanta Falcons, Chicago’s Charles Tillman, former Cardinal and current Denver Bronco Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, New England’s Aqib Talib, Miami’s Brent Grimes and Washington’s DeAngelo Hall. And there is a slew of cornerbacks who made less than $1.5 million in 2013 who would be solid additions to the Cardinals, but most aren’t standouts.

While Arizona won’t shell out a lot of money to a backup cornerback, it will be looking for a versatile defensive back to fill the role of Tyrann Mathieu, who will most likely be out until at least September. And the Cardinals might have to pay for that.

Among the best options at cornerback within the Cards’ price range are Rodgers-Cromartie at the high end and Seattle’s Walter Thurmond at the low end. In between includes Green Bay’s Sam Shields, Oakland’s Tracy Porter, and Tennessee’s Alterraun Verner.

Arizona could also consider someone like Giants cornerback Aaron Ross, who missed significant time last season with a back injury but would be healthy this year, or San Francisco’s Terrell Brown, who made $1.5 million last season, but was injured.

If the Cardinals choose to release Powers to save money, they could opt to make the cornerback opposite Peterson as tough to play against as the two-time All-Pro with someone like Rodgers-Cromartie, Talib, or Shields. Two of Washington’s cornerbacks, Hall and Josh Wilson, could also fill that void.

How the Cardinals handle their own free agents will determine how much they want to spend on other free-agent cornerbacks.

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians summoned his inner Bobby Bowden to describe Sunday's 40-11 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

“Basically after watching the film, it was a daggone good outing by everyone, especially defensively,” Arians said.

Arians, however, said the Cardinals still had a few mental errors in the red zone that would've allowed them to put even more points on the board.

“Overall, I was very pleased with the performance,” Arians said.
  • Arians said Bryan McCann did a good job as a gunner.
  • Justin Bethel “was himself again” after returning from a concussion.
  • Arians said three or four players were at fault for Jay Feely's blocked field goal.
  • Arizona came out “very healthy," Arians said. "We have some bumps and bruises, but nobody that will miss any significant time on the practice field.”
  • The offensive line “chipped and helped” more against the Colts' Robert Mathis than against other teams.
  • This year's team is starting to remind Arians of last year's Colts squad and past Steelers teams because the offense hangs out with the defense.
  • Arians isn't looking forward to bundling up for the trip to Philadelphia.

Bethel questionable despite symptoms

November, 22, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even though he’s cleared to play, Arizona Cardinals gunner Justin Bethel is questionable for Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, coach Bruce Arians said.

Bethel
“He’s much, much better,” Arians said. “He’ll be a game-time decision.”

Bethel missed Thursday’s practice because of “a little headache” but was back on the field Friday. He’s still experiencing symptoms from the concussion he suffered against Jacksonville.

If Bethel can’t play Sunday, a committee of about four players will fill his roles on special teams. Based on who has played gunner earlier this season, among the committee will be Jaron Brown and Antoine Cason. Brittan Golden could also be used if he’s active Sunday. He’s back at 100 percent from a hamstring injury that’s hampered him for more than a month.

Golden, who practiced at gunner on Friday, is also questionable.

Recently re-acquired Bryan McCann, who the Cardinals signed this week to replace Teddy Williams, will be one gunner, Arians said.

“Looks great, like he never missed a beat,” he said. “He was probably our second-best gunner and special teams player in training camp.”

Bethel clears protocol, plans to play

November, 20, 2013
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TEMPE, Ariz. – Arizona Cardinals gunner Justin Bethel has passed the league's concussion protocol, and he expects to play Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts.

“Yeah, that’s the plan,” Bethel said. “That’s my plan to play.”

Passing the concussion test was Bethel’s biggest hurdle to returning to the field. He was limited in practice Wednesday.

Bethel
“We’ll take it very easy with him,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said.

Bethel left last weekend’s game against Jacksonville after a vicious hit left him staggering. After finally getting to his feet, he had to take a knee again and eventually be helped off the field.

The second-year gunner, who Arians has said may be the best special-teams player in the NFL, said he didn’t know how bad the concussion was, but he was feeling better Wednesday.

“Just going to go out there and try to get better every day, do what I can,” Bethel said. “And just try to get ready for Sunday.”

Without Bethel, the Cardinals' punt-return unit would be in trouble. In the third quarter against the Jaguars, fellow gunner Teddy Williams was lost for the season with an Achilles injury. In Williams' place, the Cardinals signed Bryan McCann, who is expected to assume the gunner duties. But if Bethel can't return Sunday, the Cardinals' ability to flip the field won't be as strong as it has been and the defense will face more pressure to keep opponents from working in short fields.

Quarterback Carson Palmer was listed on the Cardinals’ injury report with a hand injury, but he practiced fully. The only Cardinal not to practice was center/guard Mike Gibson. Linebacker John Abraham (hamstring) and wide receivers Michael Floyd (shoulder) and Brittan Golden were limited.

Arians said Floyd’s right shoulder, in which he suffered a sprained AC joint against Houston, was sore. The coach also described Golden as at “about 90 percent,” an estimation the receiver agreed with.

“He’s still finding that last gear,” Arians said. “I think it’s more scar tissue than it is injury at this point in time. We hope to get him back soon.”

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