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Cards Change Punters

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Ben Graham, who signed with the Cardinals Monday, launches a punt in the rain for the Jets earlier this season.

The Cardinals' punting merry-go-round that began late in training camp last season continued Monday, when the team released the struggling Dirk Johnson and brought in left-footed Ben Graham.

Graham, who spent three seasons-plus with the New York Jets and then a game with New Orleans this season, becomes the Cards' fifth punter since training camp began in 2007. His predecessors were Scott Player, Mike Barr, Mitch Berger and then Johnson, who was signed this offseason.

Johnson averaged 41.8 yards on 40 punts this season, with a net average of 35.2 yards. But he got off too many poor punts in key situations, and coach Ken Whisenhunt had made it public that Johnson was under scrutiny.

Helping Johnson's cause was that he was holding for kicker Neil Rackers. Rackers had reverted to form this season in part because of stability at holder that was missing last season as punters/holders came and went. Against the Eagles on Thanksgiving, however, Johnson averaged just 36.3 yards a kick and the Cards felt the need to make a move.

Graham, 35, is an Australian and one-time Australian Rules Football player who stands 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds. He signed with the Jets in 2005 and was a mainstay over the next three seasons and into 2008. Graham was replaced by Reggie Hodges this season after coach Eric Mangini said he was disappointed in Graham's punting hang time.

Graham was actually released by the Jets and brought back this season before being cut for good after the Jets beat the Cardinals, 56-35, in late September. He punted for the Saints as a fill-in during their game against the Chargers in London. Graham has averaged 43.1 yards a punt on 17 kicks this season.

Graham also served as the holder with the Jets, which likely means he will take the same role in replacing Johnson for the Cardinals.

In another roster move, the Cardinals brought back tackle Elliot Vallejo -- cut from the roster last week -- to the practice squad.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 12/1/08.

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