Arizona Cardinals: Mike Leach

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.
Monday marks the start of the Arizona Cardinals' offseason conditioning program under new strength and conditioning coach Buddy Morris.

They’ll see two new faces in the weight room this year in Morris, who has a long history with Bruce Arians from their days together in Cleveland and sharing a facility in Pittsburgh, and Roger Kingdom, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 110-meter hurdles, who was hired as the Cards’ speed coach.

But for 17 players, the start of conditioning doesn’t just mark the first organized activity for the Cardinals since they lost to San Francisco, 23-20, on Dec. 29. It means they can start earning their offseason workout bonuses. While 100 percent participation usually isn’t required, teams typically mandate that players participate in 80-90 percent of the team’s offseason workouts.

The largest workout bonus that can be earned this offseason is $250,000 each by quarterback Drew Stanton, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Darnell Dockett.

The list of potential workout bonuses:

 
With the Arizona Cardinals' remaining cap space steady the last couple of weeks, it’s a good time to look at who’s taking up the largest portion of the Cardinals’ cap space. According to the most recent numbers by ESPN Stats & Information, Arizona’s cap space this week is $4,522,983, which changed slightly from last week because of the release of LaRon Byrd and Dan Giordano.

Two weeks ago, free agency kicked off with a flurry of moves. The Arizona Cardinals joined the frenzy almost immediately. During the last 14 days, the Cardinals have been steadily active and made improvements to their lineup -- some significant, some not so much.

Only two positions are truly open at the moment: right tackle and strong safety. The Cardinals will try to fill both of those in the draft if they can’t find other options through a trade or the rest of free agency.

Here’s an updated look at Arizona’s 2014 lineup as of today (new starters in bold):

OFFENSE

QB: Carson Palmer

RB: Andre Ellington (Rashard Mendenhall retired)

TE: Rob Housler

TE: Jake Ballard (Jim Dray signed with Cleveland)

WR: Larry Fitzgerald

WR: Michael Floyd

RT: (Eric Winston -- free agent)

RG: Paul Fanaika

C: Lyle Sendlein

LG: Jonathan Cooper (Daryn Colledge released)

LT: Jared Veldheer (Bradley Sowell)

DEFENSE

DE: Calais Campbell

NT: Dan Williams

DT: Darnell Dockett

OLB: John Abraham

ILB: Kevin Minter (Karlos Dansby signed with Cleveland)

ILB: Daryl Washington

OLB: Matt Shaughnessy (re-signed)

CB: Patrick Peterson

CB: Antonio Cromartie (Jerraud Powers)

FS: Rashad Johnson/Tyrann Mathieu

SS: (Yeremiah Bell -- free agent)

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Jay Feely (re-signed)

P: Dave Zastudil

LS: Mike Leach

KR: Ted Ginn Jr. (Javier Arenas signed with Atlanta)

PR: Patrick Peterson

2013 Roster in Review: Long snapper

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
8:00
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Starter: Mike Leach

Backup: N/A

Under contract in 2014: Leach

Cash committed in ‘13: $1.025 million

Cap committed in '13: $1,091,668

Recap: Always a pillar of stability, long snapper Mike Leach continued his Ironman streak in 2013, surpassing 200 regular-season games in Week 14. He finished the year with 203 under his belt, of which he's played the last 184 consecutive -- now the second longest streak in the NFL with London Fletcher's retirement. The less you hear about a long snapper, the more it means he's doing his job and you didn't hear anything about Leach last season. His physical build and nose for the ball, which came from his days as a tight end, helped him get off the snap quickly and get downfield. The result was three tackles this season. For the first time in the last few seasons, Leach wasn't a backup tight end, which gave him more time to focus on long snapping and could continue his career by a few seasons.

Mike Leach has the best job in sports

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
10:35
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There are great jobs in sports. Some allow you to travel the world. Some will pay you the type of money you read about in books as a child.

Yahoo tried to narrow down the Top 5 jobs in all of sports. Of course, like any list, it is open for debate and I'm sure there were plenty of people who watched the video and disagreed.

But Yahoo spoke and I know one person in the Cardinals' locker room who will have something to say about that list this week.

Without further ado...

No. 5 - Bullpen catcher

No. 4 - NFL referee

No. 3 - MLB umpire

No. 2 - PGA Tour caddie

No. 1 - NFL long snapper

That's right, Cardinals long snapper Mike Leach has the best job in all of sports, according to Yahoo.

Why would the long snapper be the best job in sports? Yahoo's reasons were it only has one job -- to snap the ball -- and there's a minimal risk of injury. That risk is even smaller this year after rules were adopted to not allow defenders to line up directly across from the long snapper on field goals, already a rule on punts, because the long snapper begins the play with his head down and the risk of injury is too high.

So, according to Yahoo, long snappers makes a lot of money, more than a million per year, work only a few plays per game and have a low risk of injury.

Maybe Leach does have the best job in sports.

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