azcentral sports’ Kent Somers and Bob McManaman talk about the Cardinals’ 24-17 victory against the Chargers in their first preseason game.
Christian Kirk will never forget his first touch in the NFL. His teammates probably won’t let him either.
“I’m gonna hear about it all next week,” Kirk said, laughing. “That’s why I say I gotta make up for it and put one in the end zone now.”
Kirk finally got to make his debut Saturday in front of his hometown crowd, feeling just about every emotion in the span of 30 seconds when he nearly ran a punt all the way back.
The team’s starting punt returner, Kirk got his first touch about a minute into the game, after the Los Angeles Chargers went three and out on the first drive of the game.
He received the punt from Drew Kaser, who was a senior at Texas A&M when Kirk was a freshman. He had space to work with, cutting right across the field and darting up.
He eventually stumbled at the Chargers’ 45, stopping what could have easily been a touchdown.
“Yeah, I think I just was thinking a little bit too much and tripped up,” Kirk said. “It was my first time in the game, so I don’t think my legs were ready yet, but I was trying to get them to move a little faster than they were ready to go.
“No, but it was good. All the blocks were set up nicely, and I’m sure we’ll be able to one in the season.”
Either way, Cardinals fans can be optimistic about Kirk’s explosive potential. The return was good for 38 yards and set up the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the night. Kirk seemed to take the slip in stride with teammates who helped him up and were still excited about how he looked on the return. He joked with Kaser, too, who was the last Charger he had to beat.
“The funny thing is he’s a former teammate of mine, so I give him the benefit of the doubt that he can run a little bit,” Kirk said. “He thought I was gonna keep running too and I told him I was trying to set him up for a cutback, but no, it was just funny to be able to catch up with him.”
Kaser has seen Kirk do it before. In Kirk’s first game at Texas A&M in 2015, he returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown, as the Aggies went on to beat Arizona State 38-17. He had flashbacks to that moment, thinking he could recreate it at the professional level.
“It’s definitely disappointing, obviously when you feel like you had an opportunity to get in the end zone, especially on my first touch, but those are just things you have to move on from,” he said. “It’s part of this whole learning experience of being a rookie and going through the ups and downs. You move on from it and make some more plays.”
Even with the mishap, Kirk had every reason to still be ecstatic about soaking in his first preseason game. A Scottsdale native, he had a ton of family and friends on hand. After his cheering section wrapped a big tailgate, Kirk was glad to see them on hand to support him around the stands.
“They’re excited,” he said. “To just be able to do something in my life that brings them so much joy and brings them so much joy, they’re able to do things like that and come together as a family, it’s just awesome. I’m excited to see them after and recap the game with them.”
The 38-yard return was his only of the night, as he waived off a punt later in the game. He finished the night with nine yards on two catches as well. The Scottsdale Saguaro alum said the game as a whole was an “amazing experience,” and that it really hit him ahead of the game.
“I think just running out on the field for the first time and just knowing that it’s here and being able to play on a stage like this,” he said. “I think it’s only just going to get better from here. Just being able to get my first taste tonight was so much fun.”