Christian Kirk carving out a spot on special teams, maybe more

Christian Kirk returned the first punt of his NFL career 38 yards, out to the Cardinals' 45-yard line. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- As he broke into open field Saturday night with the first punt return of his NFL career, Christian Kirk's mind flashed to the first punt return of his college career.

And then in a flash, the moment was over when Kirk stumbled and fell to the ground near the Los Angeles Chargers' 45-yard line. The Arizona Cardinals rookie pounded the ball with his free hand in frustration.

Kirk only had the Chargers' punter to beat for a touchdown. It didn't happen, but the play offered a glimpse at what Kirk can give the Cardinals as a return man.

"Next time I need to make sure I get in the end zone," Kirk said.

Kirk's first college punt return went for a touchdown and came against his hometown school, Arizona State, in 2015. On Saturday night for his NFL debut, he had plenty of family and friends in the seats at University of Phoenix Stadium. Though a touchdown for his hometown team in his NFL debut would have made the rookie's night even more special, Saturday night was fun for Kirk, the Cardinals' second-round pick out of Texas A&M.

Playing just a few miles from his hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona, Kirk is grateful that he can visit loved ones whenever he has the time.

"Being able to on my off days go home and drive down the street and be able to go to [my parents'] house and get home-cooked meals is always awesome. To be able to see my little sisters and what not, that's always awesome," Kirk said.

While Kirk is getting what appears to be the first shot at being the Cardinals' punt returner, he's getting his wide receiver reps with both the first- and second-team offenses. He's also getting work with the coverage unit on special teams.

"It just kind of helps me as a returner, being able to know the technique that these guys are using and what they're seeing, as well," Kirk said.

Kirk is part of a big group of wide receivers vying to be the second, third and fourth options behind star wideout Larry Fitzgerald. Kirk was targeted three times and caught two passes for 9 yards on Saturday, but the Cardinals gained only 174 total net yards and went 0-for-11 on third downs against the Chargers.

In other words, none of the bigger names in the competition stood out much. Veteran Brice Butler, who left practice early Monday with an apparent lower leg injury, is listed as the second receiver, but seemingly in name only. And J.J. Nelson, Chad Williams and Greg Little -- out of the NFL since the 2015 season -- combined to go without a catch on Saturday.

"We're all supportive of one another," said Kirk, who has helped teammates get their bearings in the greater Phoenix area by showing them around. "We just push each other and go out there and make plays."

And as impressive as his first punt return was, he still has some learning to do. Kirk's second chance at a return Saturday was downed at the 4-yard line and earned him a quick meeting with head coach Steve Wilks.

"Thought he had an opportunity to go up there and challenge the catch. From his understanding, he thought he didn't have enough room," Wilks said. "I always want to sit here and rely on their judgment; I'm not out there. But my initial thought was just the yardage right there. We don't ever want to get pinned inside the 5 whenever we have the opportunity to go and catch the ball."