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To Have And To Hold

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New punter Ben Graham (left, holding with the Saints earlier this season) must find a chemistry with kicker Neil Rackers (right) after replacing Dirk Johnson.

Ben Graham has a job because of the way he punts. But the most scrutinized part of his game – at least to start with – may be the way he can balance a football with his index finger.

The Cardinals changed punters because Dirk Johnson was struggling with his kicks, although Johnson lasted as long as he did in part because he was doing a good job holding for kicker Neil Rackers. Rackers made no secret in the offseason that he felt a major part of his inaccuracy woes in 2007 had to do with changing

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holders three times. Even coach Ken Whisenhunt acknowledged he underestimated the effect the holder changes had on Rackers.

Now, Rackers must adjust to Graham.

Tuesday, Rackers didn't look nearly as distressed as he had last season when longtime holder Scott Player was jettisoned for Mike Barr. "It's going to be great," Rackers said, noting that Graham did a good job in New York holding for both Mike Nugent and Jay Feely.

Graham, Rackers and long snapper Nathan Hodel went out on the practice field briefly Tuesday, not actually kicking yet but getting an idea of where Graham would put the ball and how Rackers likes to lean. Graham told Rackers he thought he was similar to Nugent, which should help the transition.

Rackers has converted 21-of-24 in field goals this season, and only one was a legitimate miss. Another was blocked against the Jets (for whom Graham was playing that day) when Kris Jenkins just collapsed the middle of the line and invaded the backfield. The other was Rackers' long-shot 68-yard free-kick try against the Giants.

No one wants to mess with success. Not after last season.

Graham, a 35-year-old Australian who didn't learn about holding until he came over to play with the Jets in 2005, has become proficient at it. Graham said Nugent taught him everything he knows about the art.

Graham himself is an interesting subject. He was an Aussie Rules Football player in his homeland and was friends with one-time Chargers star punter Darren Bennett – himself an Aussie Football player turned NFL punter.

When Graham finally landed an NFL job with the Jets, he actually asked in all seriousness if he could forego wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. The 6-foot-5, 235-pounder had grown comfortable kicking without in the rough-and-tumble world of the Australian game.

He had interest from multiple teams while out of work, but Arizona stood out because it is closer to the West coast and hence, closer to his Australian homeland. Despite being cut by both the Jets and Saints this season, Graham was adamant Tuesday he can still be a good punter in the NFL.

He also was confident in his ability to hold for Rackers.

"That was obviously an important part of the workout Monday," Graham said. "My expectations with the holding, with what we have done over two days, (Neil) has liked what he has seen. I don't see any problems at all with that part of the game."

RETURN TO WORK

The Cardinals were back at work Tuesday for the first time since playing Thursday night, and the four free days not only helped heal some injuries but seemed to put the players back in better spirits heading into the season's stretch run.

"We just want to take care of business Sunday," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "There were a lot of guys playing in that game Thursday trying to suck it up and just make it through that game. That plays to our advantage. (Against the Eagles) a lot of guys were hurt – a

lot* of guys were hurt."

Getting key defensive players like linebacker Clark Haggans (knee) and cornerback Rod Hood (ribs) will be crucial for a defense that is clearly struggling.

SOME NUMBERS

Anquan Boldin needs 58 yards receiving against the Rams to reach 1,000 yards this season. Teammate Larry Fitzgerald already passed up the 1,000-yard mark against the Giants.

The Cardinals have scored at least 20 points in 19 of their past 20 games.

In their last eight home games, the Cards are averaging 33.1 points per game.


Contact Darren Urban at askdarren@cardinals.nfl.net. Posted 12/2/08.

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