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Patrick Peterson earns starting nod for Cardinals against Carolina Panthers
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Patrick Peterson earns starting nod for Cardinals against Carolina Panthers

It’s not that head coach Ken Whisenhunt is opposed to starting rookies, he’s just not one to throw a rookie out there until he’s ready. That means any rookie, even one selected with the fifth overall pick in the draft.

“They’re going to earn it,” he said.

And Patrick Peterson has earned it. After opening up training camp as the fourth — sometimes fifth — defensive back on the depth chart, Peterson will line up Sunday as the Cardinals’ starting right cornerback, making his NFL debut against the Carolina Panthers.

“Patrick has worked hard in the preseason to get this opportunity,” according to Whisenhunt. “Obviously we have had an injury there (losing Greg Toler for the season) and that has hastened his elevation, but I think I said earlier in camp, it wasn’t a question of ‘if’. It was more a question of ‘when.'”

Peterson, who won the Bednarik (top defender) and Thorpe Awards (best defensive back) last year as a junior at LSU, understood why he was brought along slowly. “Coach told me he wanted to spoon feed me a little bit so if it didn’t happen the first week I would’ve been okay. I wanted to continue coming in here fighting making each and every player out here better each and every day.”

“He’s made plays in the preseason and that’s what we drafted the kid for,” said defensive coordinator Ray Horton. “There’s a learning curve and it was accelerated by the injury to Greg so 21 is going to be out there starting the game.”

And it’s not just the coaches that Peterson has caught the eye of. His teammates have been impressed as well.

“Peterson is developing,” stated safety Kerry Rhodes. “I think Coach did a good job of letting him come into his own, come into it slow not coming in right way with the ones. He had to work. It was a good thing for him. We’re expecting him to do some good things for us.”

Peterson hopes good things happen quickly, like this week. He’ll see a familiar face over on the Panthers sideline: Cam Newton. The former SEC rivals spent quite a bit of time together at “almost every (college football) awards show” in the offseason.

“The time has come. The time has come. Hopefully I can get a little bit of revenge on him,” he said, referring to Newton leading Auburn to a 24-17 win over Peterson’s alma mater last year.

Added Horton, “Just like they’re throwing their number-one guy out there, we’re throwing our number-one guy out there so let ’em play.”