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Cardinals’ Justin Bethel relishing opportunity as starting cornerback

Arizona Cardinals defensive back Justin Bethel (28) breaks up a pass intended for receiver John Brown, left, during an NFL football training camp Monday, July 24, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — The NFL is fluid theater. Injuries and single plays alter seasons, wild standings swings are commonplace from year to year, and starting positions are placeholders for all but the elite few.

Justin Bethel understands the latter reality, so when Cardinals coach Bruce Arians proclaimed him the starting cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson last week, Bethel tempered that news with the appropriate qualifiers.

Given the hill Bethel has climbed, however, it was still nice to hear the words.

“I’ve been putting a lot of work in for it and I felt like I had a really good camp,” Bethel said Monday. “Just to confirm that everything I’ve been working on in the offseason has paid off, it feels good. Now I’m ready to go into the season and make some plays in the season and have a good year; get us to the Super Bowl.”

When camp began, Arians named his No. 2 cornerback spot one of the biggest questions marks, but Bethel followed a strong spring with a strong camp and a strong preseason, punctuated by an excellent, albeit short performance against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday.

Bethel had a pair of good plays in coverage against Atlanta, getting his head around to help break up a sideline pattern where he was running stride for stride with the receiver. He had already won the job by then.

The game was just an extension of what Arians has been seeing when he made his decision.

“He just outplayed everybody,” Arians said. “Once we were able to play bump and run, which is his forte, he just got better and better and his confidence grew.”

Simply being healthy this season is Bethel’s biggest storyline. The chance to get more practice reps has had a butterfly effect on the other parts of his game.

“Being healthy and being able to train this offseason and really getting down and working with the technique and stuff is big,” he said. “Then it’s just about being six years in. You start learning the game. You see things. The game has slowed down for me a lot. I can go out there and play full speed and not worry about ‘is this the play?’ I know how things are going to go through the course of the game. I’m in the right positions.

“My press technique is a lot better. I’m feeling comfortable being able to look for the ball and I’m recognizing things sooner and being able to break sooner. I’m trusting my eyes.”

While Bethel has secured the starting spot, Arians is outwardly happy about the depth behind his starters, too, with Brandon Williams and veteran Tramon Williams showing progress.

“I’m as pleased with the corner position as just about any position on the team right now,” Arians said.

Playing opposite Peterson will always afford Bethel opportunities, but Peterson believes he is ready for the task.

“He’s always been a guy that’s relished those moments and I’m excited to see what he does,” Peterson said. “We all know that he has athletic ability to be an elite cornerback. Now it’s all about getting the game experience under his belt, making those plays to grow that confidence in himself.

“He’s going to have a lot of opportunities so we’ll see what he does with it.”

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