Michael Ray Garvin Shines As Arizona Loses To Pittsburgh, 20-10

By PFC Cardinals Writer Laura Healy

Arizona Coach Ken Whisenhut stressed Special Teams (ST) coming into the preseason. He signed players who could play their position and also ST. Kicker Neil Rackers came into this season riding a wave of success. Punter Ben Graham, picked up in the middle of the season, replacing Dirk Johnson, had success downing punts inside the 20. Though they both put up numbers— Rackers converted a FG, an extra point, and made two kickoffs, one 5 yards deep in the end zone, and the other deep as well. Graham punted 3 out of 6 inside the 20-yard line, and his other two punts ranged 54 yards and 59 yards, for a total of a 44.3-yard average.

But Michael Ray Garvin provided the real surprise in returning both kickoffs and punts better than anyone in Arizona’s recent history.

Flash back to the NFL Combine. Garvin didn’t attend, because all he did for Florida State was return kickoffs, finishing 2nd in the NCAA at 30.4 yards/return. FSU listed him at DB, but he never played a down at that position. Flash back further and Garvin just barely missed qualifying for the USA Olympic Track and Field Team as a Relay member. Garvin insisted on being a football player first. His body reflects football and not track and field. My husband, who graduated from FSU, told me the NFL scouts were surprised during the FSU Pro Day, when Garvin ran a 4.2 flat in the 40-yard dash.

I said to my husband Garvin would be noticed and taken in the latter rounds of the NFL Draft. Yet, he was not drafted. Instead, the Arizona Cardinals signed him as an Undrafted Free Agent. I cheered, knowing he was second in the NCAA at kickoff returns— averaging 30.4 yards/return. I knew he would make returns exciting.

Against the Steelers, Garvin returned 4 KOs for a total of 120 yards. He also returned 3 Punts, something he did not do in college, for a total of 30 yards. Unfortunately, Garvin suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee, forcing surgery. Garvin’s condition could have an effect on whether he makes the team or not. But he does have an advantage of being used on coverage when the Cardinals kick the ball away.

Because WR Steve Breaston bruised his knee, kickoff and put returns now fall to seventh-round draft pick RB LeRod Stephens-Howling. “The Howler” impressed against the Steelers with fearless rush pick-up despite his small stature, 5’7”. Now, in handling the return duties, Arizona’s Coach will get a good look at him. Warner called him the “replacement for JJ”— speaking of JJ Arrington, who left after last season.

Second-year RB Tim Hightower slimmed down from last year, hitting the hole quicker. He finished with 24 yards on 6 carries. Neither RB Jason Wright or Chris Vincent made any splash, but in addition to blitz pick-up, “the Howler” did show flashes. Ultimately, he must make only two cuts and head up the field, instead of three. NFL players are faster than college ones. We still have yet to see 1st round draft pick RB “Beanie” Wells, who got caught up with a defensive player stepping on his ankle. Any rush average would be an improvement over last year, and the Cardinals delivered with 4.4 yards/rush.

As we host San Diego, we should get a good look at how the Defense has improved. Can Calais Campbell look as good as he did against Pittsburgh? Though Campbell did not record any sacks, he was near Steelers’ QB Ben Rothlesberger in the first two series. NT Gabe Watson and DE Darnell Dockett played solidly. ILBs Karlos Dansby and Gerald Hayes made plays, and OLB Chike Okeafor also played well. As Arizona converts to a “3-4” defense, the other OLB spot is a question mark. In fact, that position is the only one there is a question mark about.

The Defensive backfield does not even compare to last year’s, with CB Bryant McFadden a definite upgrade over last year’s starter Rod Hood, released by the Cardinals. McFadden plays physically, and matches up well with CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (DRC). Rookie Safety Rashad Johnson should follow the same path as DRC, contributing a lot by the middle to end of the year, enabling S Antrelle Rolle to rove around in position for interceptions returned for TD. Arizona also drafted Greg Toler, a 6’0” CB, who will back up DRC. He came from a small school, but should learn fast.

Lastly, there is the Offensive Line to consider. C Lyle Seindlein did well, as did LG Reggie Wells. LT Mike Gandy, RT Levi Brown and especially Deuce Lutui still have questions around them. Brandon Keith could push Lutui. Unlike the past, Arizona has depth at every position. Herman Johnson, the 3rd round pick, surprises because though he is big, 6’7” he can move, possibly convert to T and even had a place on the Special Teams; which is where we started. Johnson and Keith played well together on the right side of the line. I hope they will get a chance to work against the Charger’s 1st team.

The only concern is whether QB Kurt Warner, mistakenly titled injury prone, can stay on the field. He’s tough, and that’s good, because there is a big discrepancy between him and rest of the QB’s. Matt Leinart currently holds the #2 QB job though Brian St. Pierre will come in ahead of him against San Diego. If Arizona doesn’t see either one of those two men, except in garbage time, then the Cardinals will make the playoffs, which is where Kurt Warner elevates the level of his play and dangerous becomes lethal.