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Cardinals' Francisco guides special teams


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POSTED: Monday, January 26, 2009

TEMPE, Ariz. » For help off the bench or during special situations, look no farther than Aaron Francisco.

A defensive back for the Arizona Cardinals, Francisco seems to be everywhere and at all times. He filled in for Adrian Wilson when the Pro Bowl strong safety went down with a hamstring injury earlier this season.

 

;
“;Yeah, I'm a role
player, but I'm
most proud of
special teams
captain. My team-
mates voted on
this, and it's the
biggest honor I
have as an NFL
player.”;

Aaron Francisco
Kahuku graduate
who is a defensive
back and special
teams player for
the NFC champ-
ion Arizona Car-
dinals

 

Francisco started against the Jets and Buffalo, and has proved to be an important role player in the team's pass defense. And he adds more value to the team as special teams captain.

For the 6-foot-2 216-pounder out of Kahuku High, the road to Super Bowl XLIII was littered with roadblocks. Sure, the Cardinals jumped out to a 7-3 start and clinched the NFC West on Dec. 7. But after that, they dropped lopsided games to the New York Giants, Philadelphia, Minnesota and New England, and surrendered a combined 167 points in those four defeats.

Remarkably, Arizona recovered and zipped through the Falcons, Panthers and Eagles to make the big game in Tampa, Fla.

“;The losses to Philly and New England were a wake-up call for this team,”; Francisco said from the Cardinals' training facility, just prior to leaving for Florida. “;Those games sent a message to this team, and the process was really a self-realization: either wake up or end the season.”;

The Cardinals responded, and Francisco remains a big part of an improving defense.

Describing himself as “;a passing-down guy,”; Francisco comes in when the situation calls for five defensive backs. He does not play in the usual nickel, but lines up deep at the safety position. In the Cardinals' version of the nickel, Wilson and Antrel Rolle assume coverage on wide receivers, and Francisco drops back to Wilson's traditional spot at strong safety.

Against the Eagles two Sundays ago, Francisco intercepted a pass and returned the ball 27 yards. Even though he fumbled the ball away, Francisco looked at it on the bright side:

“;At least they didn't score, and it was as good as a punt,”; he said.

A four-year veteran, Francisco's 56 tackles are sixth-best on the team and tops among nonstarters.

In the three postseason games, Francisco has eight tackles along with that pick in the NFC championship game.

“;We have six basic defensive formations and I'm in on five,”; he said. “;Yeah, I'm a role player, but I'm most proud of special teams captain. My teammates voted on this, and it's the biggest honor I have as an NFL player.”;

Through his development here in the desert, Francisco's value has not escaped Arizona's decision-makers.

“;Aaron has really grown up,”; said Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt. “;Two things you have to do to be a good player. You have to make your way through special teams, which Aaron has done. Then, you have to play well in the opportunities you get, and Aaron has done that for us. I'm excited about Aaron's future with our team.”;

Joining Arizona as a free agent at the start of the 2005 season, Francisco went on to lead the team in special teams tackles with 23 in 2006.

Francisco traces his growth to a solid college experience at BYU, where early in his career, he had to overcome homesickness.

“;I knew what the islands were like, and don't get me wrong, I love Hawaii,”; he said. “;But, I also wanted to get out and explore, and had an opportunity to play college football on the mainland. That was tough at first, and I wanted to come home after the first week.”;

Francisco stayed, and was rewarded with a first-team All-Mountain West Conference selection as a junior in 2003. He was also named BYU's defensive most valuable player in 2004.

Now, the scene shifts to Tampa and perhaps the biggest stage in all of sports.

“;I just want to enjoy the moment,”; he said, smiling. “;There are so many players who do not have a chance to experience a Super Bowl, and I don't know if I'll be back.”;

Francisco is focused on beating Pittsburgh and making a contribution in a crowning moment to a wildly successful season.