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New Kickoff Scheme Slowly Coming Together

Powell, Arenas top candidates to lead downhill return game.


Recently acquired cornerback Javier Arenas will be among the candidates to return kickoffs this season.

One constant throughout the Cardinals' last two seasons has been the hype surrounding their punt returners.

The buzz began when Patrick Peterson was drafted in 2011 and it reached a deafening peak when he returned four punts for touchdowns that season. Last year, every time he caught a punt, the air paused inside University of Phoenix Stadium while everyone slid to the edge of their seats. While he didn't break a return, the tension was still palpable from the sidelines to the upper decks.

Any excitement lost after last year returned in April when the Cardinals drafted Tyrann Mathieu, another dynamic return man who is capable of breaking free on any given kick. His addition all but assured the Cardinals that all eyes will be on them when opponents send out their punter.

And that's exactly how the Cards' kickoff returners would prefer it.

"It's always nice flying under the radar," returner William Powell said. "(You're) unexpected and (can) hit them where it hurts. Nobody is expecting you to be that big. We have a great punt-return game, everybody knows about that, but it's always nice to fly under the radar, pass by those scouting reports."

There isn't much on those scouting reports as of yet.  

Under new special teams coach Amos Jones, the Cardinals are renovating their kickoff return team and implementing Jones' philosophy, which helped the Pittsburgh Steelers return 43 kicks for 1,086 yards in 2012 – the seventh-highest total in the NFL. The Cardinals had 930 kickoff return yards.

Jones said the Cardinals will be a "gap" team, meaning they'll have a downhill mindset with the ability to hit the edge outside. The "heir apparent," as Jones called him, to the starting job is Powell, who led the Cardinals with 507 yards on 21 returns last season.

"He's a downhill runner and I like downhill running," Jones said. "Our scheme is conducive to that. It's kinda one of those situations where the guy that can get the ball quick, tuck it quick, catch it going forward is probably the guy who's going to come out of that thing in the lead."

Ask Powell and Javier Arenas, who was acquired in a May trade, and they'll both say they're the one for the job.

Arenas returned nine kicks for 177 yards last year, the lowest total in his three seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs.

"I like having the ball in my hands," Arenas said. "I want to be the main guy in every phase."

The veterans started their summer vacation this week without a starting return man etched on the depth chart and it might stay that way through training camp. While Powell and Arenas are campaigning for the main return job, Jones has worked Ryan Williams, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts as the off returner.

They all may play a role in Jones' back of tricks.

"All of them can go multiple sets," Jones said. "We could go two deep back there. We could go with a staggered situation where we go with the off returner and some action like we would on punt returns.

"Obviously you have to have a bounce play. The bounce play and misdirection plays are big in this league and we want to be multiple with those things."

The Cardinals worked on kickoff returns about once a week during minicamp and OTAs while they practiced punt returns almost daily. There's still "tedious details" to get worked out, Arenas said.

"Right now," Arenas said, "we're putting it together."

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