Cardinals running back Kerwynn Williams returns a punt against the Bears.
The first couple of times Kerwynn Williams returned punts, it caught the eye of his quarterback.
"I asked him, 'Why haven't you been doing this since you got here?' " Carson Palmer said.
To be fair, the time Williams has spent with the Cardinals hasn't lent itself to a real chance at the job. This will be the first time since he arrived in 2014 that Williams will make the 53-man roster out of training camp. But with the wrist injury to rookie running back T.J. Logan – the man who was going to be the kickoff and punt returner in 2017 – Williams is now sliding into that role.
Williams has returned kicks before. He has yet to return a punt, at least in the regular season. But that doesn't mean he
hasn't always been ready.
"I caught them every day in practice in college," said Williams, who returned 11 punts for 135 yards while at Utah State. "That's' something you can't just start doing. You have to continue doing that. In high school, you'll catch some punts, but a lot of them end up bouncing off the ground. So in college made sure I caught them every day before practice, staying on top of it, because you never know if you'll have to do that."
Williams – who is dealing with a sore foot after getting it stepped on in practice – has only returned two punts since Logan got hurt. The first was a 13-yard return, the second an 18-yarder that was wiped out because of a penalty.
Coach Bruce Arians said Williams caught them in practice all last year and was briefly considered as a candidate at the end of the season. Once Logan was drafted, Williams became a backup plan again.
For a team that has been searching for a punt returner so that Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson wouldn't have to do it, Arians called it "refreshing" to have a pair of candidates like Logan and Williams.
Williams has more experience as a kickoff return man (he has a 17.1-yard average on nine tries in the NFL, after
averaging 25.2 on 135 in college), but is intrigued by the chance to return punts. In some ways, he sees a punt return like a stretch zone running play, in which he waits for one key block and then cuts upfield.
It also takes guts.
"I would definitely say you have to be brave to catch punts out here," Williams said. "Especially at the level we're at. It's not like in college … guys here, it's like their main job, they study tape, they study you just like they study offense or defense. You really do have to be brave, because guys are here trying to keep their jobs."
Williams was likely to make the team anyway – for the first time out of camp – although Logan's injury cemented it. It doesn't hurt that he has a 5.6-yard per carry average as a running back in his 98 career attempts, all with the Cardinals.
Arians said it was hard not to notice Williams when he first showed up on the practice squad working on the scout team and defenders "couldn't touch him."
Williams will try and take that to punt returns.
"I don't think anyone ever doesn't want the ball in their hands," Williams said. "Anytime there is the extra opportunity to have the ball you want to take advantage, and that's exactly what I see it as."