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Filling The Holes On Special Teams


Aaron Francisco makes one of his six special-teams tackles against the Rams Sunday.

Aaron Francisco won't get the same Pro Bowl consideration as fellow special teamer captain Sean Morey, but he played his role very well against the Rams last weekend in posting an impressive six-tackle game.

"Special teams is really (about) one-on-one battles," Francisco said. "You win those one-on-ones, you should make the play."

The unit still needs to work together, however, and that hasn't been easy for the Cardinals. Like any group, the more it can play together the better it will be. While the Cards have stayed relatively healthy, injuries have taken some key special teamers like Ali Highsmith and Clark Haggans. Depth-chart changes have affected "teams" as well, for example when Tim Hightower stopped special teams to become starting running back.

Pro Bowl candidate Morey has been limited this week with a shoulder injury, putting his status for the Minnesota game in doubt.

"Sometimes it is hard when you have played with the same guys for a long time and someone goes down," Francisco said. "You can look at it and say it's hard, but we have guys who can step in.

"When you don't have guys in, like if Sean can't go, I feel it puts more pressure on guys like me and Monty (Beisel)."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said with only 45 men active on game day, a team must have versatile players. That's one reason a player like fullback Tim Castille is often active.

"Much like your team, that unit especially, the chemistry part of it is so important," Whisenhunt said. "We are lucky we have a good core of guys. It is always difficult."


The final Pro Bowl fan vote was announced Thursday, and Cards' big three on offense won over the fans.

Quarterback Kurt Warner was fifth overall in entire league and third among NFC quarterbacks behind Drew Brees and Eli Manning. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was seventh in the entire NFL, and Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin ended up the top two vote getters among NFC receivers.

The votes account for one-third of the selection process. Head coaches across the league count for a third, and the votes of fellow players count for a third. But to have the fans put Fitzgerald and Boldin 1-2, in Boldin's words, "is unheard of." In the last five years, only the Colts' Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne (who finished 2-3 in the AFC one season) came close at the wideout position.

"I think people are just taking notice," Boldin said. "In the past we weren't winning, we weren't getting (nationally) televised games. People heard about us but they never really saw us."

Said Fitzgerald, "I think it's a product of the winning. Everyone kind of gets accolades. Last year with the Dallas Cowboys, they had 11 or 12 Pro Bowlers and three or four were (arguable). But they got in because they were in the playoffs. When we start winning over the long haul, more guys will start getting accolades individually."

The Cardinals players and coaches did their voting Thursday afternoon. The Pro Bowl rosters are expected to be announced Tuesday.


Besides Morey, wide receiver Steve Breaston (ribs) remained limited Thursday. Fullback Terrelle Smith remained out, excused for personal reasons. Safety Matt Ware, coming back after facial surgery, returned to practice full for the first time and is expected to be available this weekend.

For the Vikings, defensive end Jared Allen (knee) missed practice for a second straight day. Allen is the Vikings' best pass rusher.

Contact Darren Urban at Posted 12/11/08.

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