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Jeff Rodgers Has Cardinals' Special Teams Flying High

Notes: Jones, Suggs in coverage; Reddick role to increase

Special teams coach Jeff Rodgers has led a turnaround since his hire in 2018.
Special teams coach Jeff Rodgers has led a turnaround since his hire in 2018.

The Cardinals' flurry of roster moves on cutdown weekend had a major impact on special teams coach Jeff Rodgers, who had to modify roles on the fly as the season opener rapidly approached.

"It's part of the job," said Rodgers, who had six days to get everyone up to speed. "Whether it's Week 1 or any week, you know there are going to be some moving parts."

Like he did throughout 2018, Rodgers made it look seamless.

The Cardinals' special teams graded out as the best in the NFL in Week 1 by Football Outsiders, as wide receiver Trent Sherfield, linebacker Dennis Gardeck, punter Andy Lee and kicker Zane Gonzalez all made key plays.

Special teams was a weakness during Bruce Arians' coaching tenure, but Rodgers' year-plus tenure in Arizona has turned things around.

Gardeck said after the game that his punt deflection was keyed by Rodgers' decision to line him up against a vulnerable blocker.

"I try to put our players in a position of strength," Rodgers said. "Whatever they do well, let them do that. If it works out that there is a deficiency we may see in a scheme or a particular player, I wouldn't be doing my job unless we put our players in that situation."

One move the Cardinals didn't make also turned out nicely.

Many expected Gonzalez to face competition for the kicker job in the preseason after he went 9-of-14 on field goals in 2018, but no one was brought in.

Gonzalez repaid that trust by connecting on his four field goal attempts and an extra point try on Sunday, keeping the Cardinals in striking distance of the Lions as the offense sputtered.

"It felt fantastic," Gonzalez said. "The confidence from the coaching staff and the players goes a long way. I'm looking forward to keeping it going."

THE REASON WHY SUGGS, JONES DROP INTO COVERAGE

Chandler Jones and Terrell Suggs were dominant rushing the passer against the Lions, but they were also tasked with dropping into coverage at times. That didn't go as well, which defensive coordinator Vance Joseph acknowledged on Thursday.

Joseph explained why it's necessary for his outside linebackers to cover at times in his 3-4 defense.

"We can't get locked in to not dropping those guys, because then the back end has too much stress, and it's all man (coverage), it's all fire zone," Joseph said. "The beauty of the defense is to keep them guessing. Who is going to be the fourth rusher? So we have to drop them, and I drop them both sometimes just to keep the protections fair.

"I do get it. That's not their strongest skillset. They're big guys. But we have to do it to keep it all fair. They don't worry about it. Obviously if a five-yard out is caught on Chandler or Sizzle, I don't worry about that. That's just part of the total game plan."

HAASON REDDICK LOGS ANOTHER FULL PRACTICE

Inside linebacker Haason Reddick (knee) logged a second straight full practice Thursday as he returns to optimum health following knee surgery in the preseason. Reddick rotated snaps with Joe Walker in the opener.

"He should be able to play more on base downs and help us," Joseph said. "His speed and his tackle ability is something you need on defense, especially with the spread offense."

Defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (hamstring) and guard Lamont Gaillard (knee) did not practice.

For the Ravens, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (back) was upgraded to limited participation. Wide receiver Marquise Brown (hip) was also limited, while cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) did not practice.

Images from practice at the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center

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