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Cardinals Work To Make Sure Blake Gillikin Isn't On An Island

New punter steps in to also hold for kicker Matt Prater

New punter Blake Gillikin gets off a kick during practice this week.
New punter Blake Gillikin gets off a kick during practice this week.

Despite this being his fourth season in the NFL, Blake Gillikin feels like he's reliving the feeling of being a rookie again.

It's been a whirlwind week for the punter, who was signed on Tuesday following the decision to release Nolan Cooney.

"It's like drinking water through a firehose," Gillikin said. "But having some experience playing before makes it way more comfortable on the field, so you're starting way ahead from that perspective."

It's not easy to join a new team midway through the season, and Gillikin recognizes that it's an even bigger transition since the specialist room that only features him, long snapper Aaron Brewer and kicker Matt Prater is so small.

Punting is his specialty, but Gillikin will also be Prater's holder as well. It's a position that may be overlooked in the eyes of most, but special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers pointed out that it was a key factor in who won the initial punter battle that took place in training camp between Cooney and Matt Haack.

"Having guys like Brewer and Prater, just longtime vet guys, have made the transition really seamless for me," Gillikin said. "A lot of this week has been going over basically every single situation possible, whether that be field goals, punts, onside kicks, and just talking to Matt about what he likes."

Fortunately for both Gillikin and Prater, they have familiarity with one another. When Gillikin was still with the Saints, Prater at one point trained with then-New Orleans kicker Wil Lutz and Gillikin.

Now that they're teammates, coach Jonathan Gannon said the specialists have been working overtime to develop chemistry, both on and off the field.

Prater is one of the NFL's all-time best kickers, currently sitting on 1,706 career points and is 19th on the NFL's all-time list for career points. Gillikin said that working with a kicker, the top priority is learning how each individual wants the ball held.

"Anytime you're kicking it, you want to have the right tilt on the ball so you can try to hit a clean rotating ball," Prater said. "Obviously you want the laces to be pointed at the target, so that's about as picky as I get. I'm not super picky."

"Matt has had so many holders throughout his career, I hope this is going to be an easy change for him, but I'm not taking anything for granted," Gillikin said. "I'm watching the tape every day, getting feedback from him and the coaching staff just to make this thing go pretty smooth on Sunday."

On Sunday, the Cardinals will host the Bengals, and while it'll be Gillikin's debut with the Cardinals, it isn't his State Farm Stadium debut. The first time was in college when Penn State won the Fiesta Bowl, but most recently, he was on the Saints in a game that saw them fall to the Cardinals, 42-34, last season.

Two of those punts last year landed inside the 20, a stat in which he ranked 11th in 2022. He also finished fourth in number of punts landed in the opponent's territory. Like State Farm Stadium, Gillikin's previous home in New Orleans was indoors, so there's comfortability.

This time, he'll be on the field wearing the Cardinals logo with new teammates, and new black uniforms. It adds to the feeling of being a rookie again.

Regardless, Gillikin has one goal.

"Win as many games as possible here," Gillikin said. "Everyone's having a better time when the team's winning, and there's a winning culture. I think the Cardinals are on a great trajectory in that regard."

Images of the Cardinals practicing at the Dignity Health Sports Complex before the Week 5 regular season matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals