Antoine Bethea could help elevate Cardinals’ football IQ
Jun 2, 2017, 10:00 AM | Updated: 11:27 am
(Photo: Adam Green: Arizona Sports)
TEMPE, Ariz. — Bruce Arians has talked openly about the need for his team to play more intelligent football than it did last season.
“That’s been a big point of emphasis,” the Cardinals coach said Thursday. “We had plays that we had made in years past [that] we didn’t make. Whether it be kicks, finishing a game defensively or offensively, [we] just didn’t make the plays and had a couple mental errors in critical situations that we hadn’t made in the past.”
Improving a team’s composure and football IQ isn’t as simple as adding veterans. As Arians noted, some young players already play with poise and intelligence, but improving competition cognition was still a major factor in the offseason veteran signings of linebacker Karlos Dansby, kicker Phil Dawson and safety Antoine Bethea, who has history with Arians from their time together in Indianapolis.
“‘Toine is the ultimate pro,” Arians said. “He’s one of those guys that knows what he’s doing. He never feels pressure because he’s always aware and he’s getting guys lined up already. Especially in hurry-up situations, he can take command real quickly.”
In his 11th NFL season last year with San Francisco, Bethea had 110 tackles to finish tied for 22nd in the NFL. He also had four passes defended, an interception, a forced fumble and fumble recovery. With second-round pick Budda Baker yet to arrive from the University of Washington, Bethea said it is too soon to say what his role will be in the Cardinals defense.
“I’m still learning. There are still some things that I’m getting comfortable with,” he said. “We’ll finish up this week and next week mini-camp and by the time I come back for training camp, I’ll have some time to really sit down and study some more.”
Bethea has recorded 100-plus tackles in five of his last six full seasons, and six of his last eight. He expects to make plays, but where he could have the greatest impact on the Cardinals’ secondary is by helping harness the immense talents of Tyrann Mathieu, Baker and Tyvon Branch.
“The athleticism is off the charts, but to stay in the league you’ve got to play above the shoulders so that’s where I think I can probably help out the most,” he said. “If you are athletic, that’s going to flash but a lot of times when you can’t play above the shoulders that kind of slows your athleticism down.
“As a veteran, I just try to give my two cents what to look at, how to look at things, how to read things and try to help the athleticism go through the roof.”
Arians believes playing intelligent football is about studying, taking reps and building a confidence off of it that leaves a player feeling calm in pressure situations.
“I think it’s about focusing in; knowing situational football,” Bethea added. “The coaching staff will help us do a good job, going out there practicing different things.”
Bethea knows he is also being counted on for his leadership, but in a new environment with new teammates, he said that won’t necessarily take a vocal form.
“You can do that many different ways and coming to this team, they already had a number of leaders,” he said. “It’s not about coming in and raising your voice or whatever the case may be. It’s coming out and leading by example and just fitting in where you need to fit in, pulling the young guys aside and trying to get them on the same page with the older guys that have already been here.
“I think I have fit in well. I’ve been in it for a while so I kind of know what it is and know what it takes.”