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The Impact Of Stephens-Howling

Notebook: Warner availability game-day decision; Gandy doubtful

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Rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling downs a punt at the Titans' 1-yard line last weekend during the Cards' loss in Tennessee.
 
 
The question, from Sean Morey's viewpoint, was "silly."

If he were a player on another team, would he vote for himself – the reigning NFC Pro Bowler on special teams enjoying another good season – or rookie LaRod Stephens-Howling for this year's Pro Bowl?

"I don't think being selected to the Pro Bowl for special teams really distinguishes a player as the best player on special teams," said Morey, a captain and one of the ultimate team guys. "There are so many guys in the league who have a big impact on special teams. There are so many players who deserve the recognition."

There is little question Stephens-Howling falls into that category, however, despite his newbie status. He'd admittedly prefer to "fly below the radar," but he was named NFC special teams player of the week after arguably the greatest all-around special teams game the Cards have had since moving to Arizona.

Stephens-Howling returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, downed three Ben Graham punts at the Tennessee 5- ,2- and 1-yard line, and made an excellent tackle on kickoff coverage.

He brushed aside the idea of how well he played, saying "you can always do something better, especially when your team loses. The effort feels like it wasn't enough."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he has been impressed with what Stephens-Howling has been able to produce as a seventh-round pick, although the coaches have been high on Stephens-Howling – who has a team-leading 18 special-teams tackles -- since he was drafted.

And while Morey prefers to note that the Cards' entire special-teams unit has played well, he's also quick to praise Stephens-Howling, lauding his work ethic.

"To this point in the season," Morey said, "there hasn't been a player more productive on special teams than LaRod."

The Vikings have noticed. Minnesota coach Brad Childress said Stephens-Howling even came up in conversations during game-planning this week.

"They are punting it good, and then they have a guy like that that is exceptional," Childress said. "He is a three-name guy. I get confused with all those hyphens and whatnot, but he's a good player."

The Cards have found that out, although Stephens-Howling isn't even on the Pro Bowl ballot, so fans can't make him a choice. That's OK with him, though. Asked the same Pro Bowl question as Morey, Stephens-Howling laughed – and then properly deferred to the veteran.

"Aw, Sean is going to get my vote, man," Stephens-Howling said. "He's a great leader. He's our captain. He leads the way."

QB ANNOUNCEMENT SUNDAY; GANDY DOUBTFUL

Whisenhunt reiterated the decision whether Kurt Warner (concussion) will play Sunday night will come on Sunday. Warner continued to split work with Matt Leinart Friday but the Cards remain cautious.

"It's really going to be much like last week, with the hopes that nothing comes up that keeps Kurt from going," Whisenhunt said.

Leinart said he's prepared if he needs to start, especially after getting significantly more practice time this week.

"It's been fun," Leinart said Friday. "I've always said 'Take advantage of the opportunity,' whether it's one game or the season. You have to be prepared and I have worked really hard to be that. I kind of have the mentality that I don't have anything to lose, just going to go out and play and hopefully I can put us in position to win. That's all you can do."

Tackle Mike Gandy (pelvis) missed practice for a third straight game. He's listed as doubtful – if he doesn't play, it'll snap the string of consecutive games played for the offensive line at 31 – and Jeremy Bridges would start in his place.

"It doesn't look great but there's still a chance," Whisenhunt said.

Also listed as doubtful is tight end Stephen Spach. The rest of the injury list are guys that are questionable – RB Tim Hightower (thumb), CB Bryant McFadden (knee), DE Kenny Iwebema (thumb), K Neil Rackers (groin) and LB Karlos Dansby (shoulders) – but are expected to play.

FITZ AND ALLEN

It's seems like an odd pairing, but Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Vikings Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen have become close friends.

The two live near each other – Allen is a Valley resident in the offseason – and got to know each other well when the two joined Giants linebacker Danny Clark and Eagles linebacker Will Witherspoon on a USO tour this summer, visiting U.S. troops in Iraq, Kuwait and Africa. Yet they seem opposites, Allen as a kind of wild guy who hunts while Fitzgerald more of a button-down, closer-to-the-vest type.

"At the core, we are the same," Fitzgerald said. "We both have a burning desire and yearn to be the best at what we do. Now, are we different in personality? That's true. But I have a great respect for him, what he has been able to do, and the kind of man he is."

Said Allen, "He's a great dude. Our friendship has really blossomed."

Allen has invited Fitzgerald to his July wedding. Fitzgerald said he couldn't have been more impressed when Allen and he were in Africa and Allen "was doing pull-ups on the trees and running into the wilderness with lions when they told him not to do it, but it was important to get his training in. I wasn't going to do it."

Of course, none of it matters Sunday.

Asked if the friendship would slow him from flattening Fitzgerald in a game, Allen said, "not a chance."

"It isn't going to stop him from crack-backing on me either," Allen added.

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