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James Wiggins Hoping To Bring Special Talents To Cardinals

Safety has athleticism to play on all four core special teams

Safety James Wiggins (32), here breaking up a pass in college playing for Cincinnati, is hoping to eventually make it into the defensive lineup but should make immediate inroads on special teams.
Safety James Wiggins (32), here breaking up a pass in college playing for Cincinnati, is hoping to eventually make it into the defensive lineup but should make immediate inroads on special teams.

For James Wiggins, the special part of special teams isn't hard to find.

"The most important thing is effort," the Cardinals' first seventh-round draft pick said Thursday. "It's one play. You go balls to the wall, really, and that's all there is to it – to know what you're doing and your effort."

Perhaps Wiggins, at 5-foot-11 and 209 pounds, will eventually make a push into the defensive lineup at safety. That's the plan assuming Wiggins can adjust to playing with Pro Bowler Budda Baker – "It's kind of like you are meeting a celebrity, but also you are working with him at the same time," Wiggins said – but first, special teams beckons.

Jalen Thompson is Baker's starting partner for now. But the Cardinals see Wiggins as a player who can help anchor all four special-teams units, one of the reasons he was a natural choice as the seventh round arrived.

"I know Jeff Rodgers, our (special) teams coach, thought that the safety from Cincinnati was one of the better special teams core players in this draft," GM Steve Keim said.

Under Rodgers, the Cardinals have had good special teams units, rated 10th in the NFL last season under Rick Gosselin's annual rankings. They lost Trent Sherfield in free agency, but kept Dennis Gardeck and Ezekiel Turner, signed veteran safety Shawn Williams , who excels on teams (as well as kicker Matt Prater), and then not only drafted Wiggins but a kick/punt returner in second-round receiver Rondale Moore.

Cornerback draftees Marco Wilson and Tay Gowan should also be in the special teams mix.

"I think we (Day 3 defensive backs) all are the steals of the draft and people are sleeping on us," Wiggins said. "The Cardinals were smart enough to pick us up."

The NFL announced the dates of all offseason work on Thursday; the Cardinals will hold rookie minicamp May 14-16. Wiggins sounds like a player itching to get started, mentioning a couple of times his commitment to learning the playbook – "It's the best feeling for a coach to bring in a rookie who knows most of his stuff" – and also the chance to start working with Baker.

"My mindset is trying not to be starstruck when I meet him," Wiggins said. "It's like, 'Man you are the GOAT here at the safety position, it's an honor to just be in your presence and I get to learn from you. Hopefully one day I can play like him or better."

The Cardinals have a lot of safeties on the roster: Baker, Thompson, Williams, Deionte Thompson, Chris Banjo, Charles Washington. The latter two have made their careers on special teams, so there are roster battles to be waged.

But Wiggins is fine being known as a guy who can excel in the part of football four-time special team Pro Bowler Ron Wolfley likes to call "the transition game." He knows he needs to make his mark.

"I just take it as a compliment, really," Wiggins said. "Special teams is an important part of the game. I know I want to be in the starting lineup, but to get to that point you have to be a dog on special teams."

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