PHOENIX — Losing cornerback Antonio Cromartie in free agency left a hole in the Arizona Cardinals’ secondary.
Yet, the team did not sign one nor find a replacement in the draft.
Head coach Bruce Arians explained he was “extremely comfortable” with the cornerback room.
He’s not the only one.
“I’m more than confident with what we have right now,” Patrick Peterson said.
OK, but why?
“We got Jerraud Powers coming back with us for his third season, which I thought he had an awesome season last year,” Peterson continued, standing just outside the Arizona Diamondbacks dugout after taking batting practice on Tuesday. “Got Justin Bethel, who had an awesome offseason last year who I thought was going to push for that starting position in the 2014-15 season.”
Powers was a starter two years ago. He lost that spot when Cromartie signed, but still played in all 16 games last season and ranked second on the team with three interceptions, tied with Peterson and Cromartie.
Bethel, meanwhile, has been a player the Cardinals have been high on for awhile now.
A two-time Pro Bowl selection on special teams, Bethel is entering his fourth season and now “understands how to study the game and understand how to prepare for each week,” according to Peterson.
“He’s extremely strong. He has the speed, he has the size, he has unbelievable athletic ability,” Peterson said. “And for him — and you know Justin never really played defensive back, so that’s why it’s going to take time for Coach to put him out there because you just don’t want to throw him out there to the wolves and let him get eaten up.
“You want to make that sure he understands what he’s getting himself into. I think now this is his year that he finally turns the corner. He’s definitely going to be seeing some playing time, some significant playing time in this upcoming season.”
Bethel’s playing time on defense has been limited since the Cardinals drafted him in the sixth round out of Presbyterian College in 2012. He’s played just 112 defensive snaps in his career.
But what the public hasn’t seen in games, the coaches have seen and raved about in practice. Arians has even gone as far as to say Bethel can be as good, if not better than Peterson as a cornerback in the NFL.
“He definitely has that potential,” Peterson said. “Like I said, he has the size, he has the speed. He has all the intangibles. Now, he just has to go out there and do it on the football field. I mean you can look good in practice, but once the lights come on on Sunday, it brings a different animal out of you. I mean, he definitely has the potential, but we have to wait and see what he can do on Sundays.”
Since the draft, the Cardinals have beefed up the cornerback room with rookie free agents Cariel Brooks of Adams State and C.J. Roberts of Colorado State-Pueblo.
The team also claimed three-year veteran Alfonzo Dennard off waivers from New England.
“He brings some experience. He brings that championship pedigree. He has that game-time experience,” said Peterson, referring to Dennard’s 20 starts. “He can play nickel, he can play corner, he can play safety a little bit. He’s a guy just like a Jerraud Powers that we can move him in different spots if needed.”
Will the Cardinals miss Cromartie this season? Sure, but his signing with the New York Jets now opens the door for someone else.
With Cromartie, the Cardinals ranked 29th against the pass, allowing 259.5 yards per game. However, the 22 touchdowns thrown on them were the sixth-least in the league while their average QB rating of 86.0 ranked 11th.
“I’m definitely comfortable with what we have in that room,” Peterson said, “and we’re definitely looking forward to the upcoming season.”