Zane Gonzalez was texting with some of his former teammates from the Cleveland Browns recently, comparing drives to work.
Making your way to the Browns’ complex in late November is, not surprisingly, quite different than a drive over to the Dignity Health Arizona Cardinals Training Center in Tempe.
So too is kicking in the desert, or in the oft-covered confines of State Farm Stadium, where Gonzalez – the Cardinals’ new kicker, after Phil Dawson landed on injured reserve earlier this week – will now do his job, compared to the season-plus-two-games he had kicking for the Browns in places like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Unfortunately, Gonzalez’s first game for the Cardinals will be Sunday in Green Bay, where the weather calls for windy conditions and a mix of rain and snow.
“It’s kind of funny,” Gonzalez said. “I was joking around with (Browns punter Britton Colquitt and long snapper Charley Hughlett) that my first game back is right back in the Midwest. But it is what it is. I’m excited. It’s the first game I’ve had in a while, so I’m just happy to be back out there.”
Gonzalez is home. At least where he considers home, after a record-setting four-year stint at Arizona State, the college not far from the Cards’ facility. Gonzalez actually lived in college about three miles from where the Cardinals practice, something he didn’t even realize until he showed up for a tryout earlier this season.
A 2017 seventh-round pick of the Browns after compiling the most field goals in NCAA history, Gonzalez had his ups and downs as a rookie, missing five field goals in only 20 attempts. Then he missed a 43-yard field goal in the rain during a 2018 season-opening tie with the Steelers. Then he hurt his groin in practice before missing two more field goals and two extra points in a three-point loss to the Saints in Week 2.
He was cut.
Gonzalez doesn’t want to re-live that time – “It’s in the past for a reason” – but he does like talking about the help he received from, coincidentally, one of his predecessors as Cardinals’ kicker in Jay Feely.
“My purpose was really to just be there for him,” Feely said. “I did the same thing for Dan Carlson (when the Vikings cut him). When you struggle as a kicker, there aren’t a lot of people there that can help you.”
Gonzalez had met Feely briefly when Gonzalez was at ASU, but it was Feely’s constant text messages and words of encouragement and motivation that helped drive Gonzalez while he was hoping to get another job. Gonzalez was finally signed to the Cardinals' practice squad last week before being promoted this week.
“Jay has been nothing short of fantastic,” Gonzalez said.
Feely said there are ways to tell if a kicker’s style can translate into the NFL game from the pro level, and emphasized Gonzalez fits the mold. The other part of kicking is the mental part of the game, and that’s what he has tried to support with Gonzalez.
“I told him at the end of the day, ‘Your best kicks are way better than anything I ever did,’ ” Feely said. “ ‘Your top level is so much better than what I ever was and that’s what you have to hold on to. Your ability is as good as anyone in the NFL, as good as (Baltimore's) Justin Tucker, as good as anybody. You have to trust that, and know that.’ ”
Feely isn’t Gonzalez’s only resource. Dawson, even on IR, is a “legend of the game” who can be mined for information, Gonzalez said.
In the meantime, Gonzalez isn’t thinking too far forward. He was already planning on moving back to Arizona in the offseason to train, so this gives him a jump. He has the inside track to becoming the 2019 kicker for the Cardinals, but he knows he has to prove some things in a five-game showcase to end this season.
That it starts on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field isn’t ideal, but Gonzalez, thrilled his path has brought him back to Arizona, isn’t flinching.
“We follow it up with three indoor games,” Gonzalez said, noting a pair of home games and a trip to Atlanta coming up for the Cardinals. “So I can’t complain.”
“HOPEFUL” ON HUMPHRIES
Left tackle D.J. Humphries was limited Friday and still has yet to have a full practice since injuring his knee, but coach Steve Wilks still said he was “hopeful” Humphries will be able to play Sunday in Green Bay. If he plays, Korey Cunningham will move to right tackle. If he does not, Cunningham will remain on the left side and either Will Holden or Zack Golditch will be the right tackle.
Linebacker Deone Bucannon (chest) was ruled out. Besides Humphries, linebacker Haason Reddick (neck), safety Budda Baker (knee), safety Rudy Ford (heel) and wide receiver Chad Williams (ankle) are also questionable.
For the Packers, five players were ruled out: safety Kentrell Brice (concussion/ankle), running back Tra Carson (rib), defensive end Mike Daniels (foot), wide receiver Trevor Davis (hamstring) and safety Raven Greene (ankle). Questionable are tackle David Bakhtari (knee), cornerback Bashaud Breeland (groin), wide receiver Randall Cobb (hamstring), cornerback Kevin King (hamstring), and guard Lane Taylor (quadriceps).
The Cardinals filled the open roster spot left when quarterback Charles Kanoff was released by promoting linebacker Thurston Armbrister from the practice squad on Friday. With Bucannon out and Reddick banged up, adding another linebacker could be important. Kanoff, who cleared waivers, was re-signed to the practice squad.
Images of key players for this week's opponent, the Green Bay Packers