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Arizona Cardinals training camp: All-Access with Bruce Arians, Aug. 8

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GLENDALE, Ariz. – Head coach Bruce Arians, now in his fifth year with the Arizona Cardinals, meets the media each day during training camp.

Here, in this space, we’ll highlight many of the key topics and personnel conversations he has with reporters following the morning walk-through.

“Alright, I’m really looking forward to today,” Arians said. “I really enjoyed the outside practices. The last practice was extremely competitive—a little too competitive because we got too many penalties down the field with our DBs (defensive backs) but it’s what you’re looking for. I’d rather say, ‘Whoa!’ than ‘Sic ‘em!’ Put the pads back on today and see how it goes.

“Injury-wise, John Brown (quad) will go part-time today. D.J. (Humphries, hamstring) we’re going to give another day. I don’t think there was anybody else that was new.”

How about the persistence of Kerwynn Williams? Every year it seems he’s on the bubble fighting for a roster spot.

“Yeah, Kerwynn is one of those guys that if you just give him his opportunity he does great with it every time, and you’re kind of stupid if you don’t give him one because every time he does—I’m sure he’ll do a great job with the punt return/kick return job right now. He’s extremely competitive but he’s extremely reliable, too.”

What are one or two of the attributes that a punt returner must have?

“First, you got to have great hands. So many guys can’t do it because they can’t catch them. And you have to be fearless. If you can just make one guy miss—that’s the key, just make one guy miss, you’re going to make yards. So, if you can stretch the field, make one guy miss and you have those three things, it’s pretty much all there is to it. It doesn’t really matter, speed.”

Why can some guys return kicks but not punts?       

“They can’t catch them. And then you get a left-footer—Andre Ellington was doing great all camp last year. We threw that left-footed Jugs (machine) out there, he couldn’t catch them. It just ruined his confidence. And we’ll face a left-footer early this year, so we’re going to have to get ready for it.”

How tough is it not to consider Patrick Peterson for that role?

“He’s kind of the guy you got in the back pocket when you try to make (a long return) happen, but you really like to find a younger guy to do that job.”

Does that also allow Peterson to just focus on being a cornerback?

“It’s really no focus for Pat. He catches them in his sleep. He catches them one-handed, two-handed. Now just putting him out there in space, you get rusty at that as far as catching it and making that guy miss.”

Is John Brown in that mix when he’s healthy?

“Yeah, whenever we get him healthy enough. He was really doing well last year. And he wants to do it—that’s the other thing, you want to do it. You’re coming to me, ‘Let me return kicks, let me return punts.’ Not say, “Hey, have you ever caught punts? No.’”

Have you seen punt returners get the yips and start looking up field at the players coming after them?

“Not the good ones. And they come in all sizes. You go back to Cleveland with ‘Ice Cube’ (Gerald McNeil), (Dante) Hall at Kansas City. And you got some big ones. It’s just a rare, rare knack to return punts.”

Has it been frustrating for you at all to not find someone beyond Peterson?

“Yeah, because we thought we had some guys. J.J. (Nelson) kept breaking a finger, breaking a thumb. He fumbled and broke his shoulder. He was great at it in college and right now we’re just putting him on the back-burner.”

What do you still need to see from Justin Bethel at cornerback?

“Just what he’s doing. If he plays at the level he’s playing at right now, he’s going to have a great year.”

Are you moving Harlan Miller back to corner?

“Harlan goes back-and-forth because that’s his way to make the team; be a position-flexible guy. He’s playing corner again right now.”

Are there specific things you look at Bethel when he gets in a game situation?

“Biggest thing is body language. You saw that in practice last year. Frustration. He couldn’t practice all of camp last year on the foot and then he’d get in the games and he’d be frustrated because he knew he could do it and his head would fall. Now, it’s totally different.”

How do you feel about just one cut-down, from 90 to 53?

“I love it because there’s another week for a young guy to make an impression in practice and they’re going to play that fourth game. The other thing is, you’re going to always have injuries. We went to Denver two years ago and had one tight end. He got hurt in the first quarter so we played four wideouts the whole game. I’m not putting the starters back in the there. If it’s a lineman, you have to and you don’t want to have to put those guys back in but you always want to give those guys another tape because everybody evaluates it to clear waivers or to get on to a practice squad. Once you get on a practice squad you’re in the league. People study that all the time.”

Do you expect a race to get some of those players who get cut?

“That’s normally the thing. You start claiming them off waivers. If you’ve had injuries and you’re looking for guys, that’s the best way to do it.”

What to you think of your two punters?

“I’m not real pleased with it yet right now. It’s too inconsistent, both guys. They did not, neither one, kickoff as well they’re capable so, again, we’ve got four more games. We’ll look at it.”

Finding that consistency, is that the challenge with younger punters versus more experienced ones?

“I’m not sure any of those guys are out there. We’ll look at them for another couple of weeks and if we have to make a change we’ll make a change.”

How important is it for you to have an experienced linebacker like a Karlos Dansby?

“When you’re filling out your roster, you don’t want to have to put rookies in positions through injuries to have to play right away. You’d rather have a veteran and bring that guy at a pace so he doesn’t fail. If you can fill the fourth spot at inside backer or outside backer with a veteran player and then the fifth guy is a young guy, you’re better off.”

Do you feel you have the depth behind Bethel to push him in competition?

“Oh yeah. Tramon (Williams) is coming on fast. He’s learning what to do—he’s learning our defense. He knows what to do. He’s played 10 years. Brandon (Williams) has really stacked some really good practices together and I thought he played well the other night other than the one—he’s going to get ball. When you press-coverage as much as we do, you’re going to get a ball thrown on you but he also got an interception that was huge. It was great for his confidence. But he’s had a consistent level of practice since then.”

The success this team has had in recent years, how much do you think that’s played a part in some of the free-agent additions?

“If you have opportunities, one team looks like they’re going to win and one says, ‘Hey, it’s going to be a tough, long year’ you take the one that you think you have the best opportunity to make the team. If it’s winning, yeah, I think that always weighs into it.”

What stood out to you about Budda Baker in the Hall of Fame Game?

“Very decisive and when he’s decisive, he’s fast. He’s not afraid stick it up in there and hit and tackle. Extremely good tackler. He broke up a couple of passes. Just continue to grow and don’t try to put too much on his plate too soon.”

People have called him a ‘football junkie.’ Have you seen that?

“Oh yeah. He’s always asking Ty (Mathieu), everybody. He’s right next to Antoine (Bethea) all the time, and Tyvon Branch. He’s a sponge.”

Nelson’s catch-rate was right around 45 percent last year, was that a function of him being a deep threat or can that number be improved?

“He’s got to improve in press, man-to-man. He struggles with Pat because Pat’s so big. He can’t use his speed because he can’t get away. That’s the one thing. Route runner he’s fine. He’s just got to get stronger in press, man-to-man against big corners. He’s fine against little corners. He eats them up.”

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