TEMPE, Ariz. — Patrick Peterson was supposed to be the Arizona Cardinals’ number one cornerback, a player who could shut down the opponent’s best receiver on a weekly basis.
It’s why they signed him to a $70 million contract extension prior to the 2014 season.
Instead, he struggled. Though Peterson was named to his fourth Pro Bowl — third as a cornerback — he seemed to struggle far more than he had in the past. Sure, every cornerback is going to give up a handful of big plays, but Peterson was getting burned with pretty good regularity.
ProFootballFocus.com rated him 69th among cornerbacks, and he ranked near the top of his position in penalties.
Through ten days of Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and a couple days of mini-camp, the difference in Peterson from last year to this one is noticeable.
“Much, much better,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “His weight is down, it’s under control now and he’s back to his natural athletic ability. And I think it bothered him mentally, not knowing what was going on last year. He’s got a smile on his face.
“He looks like he’s supposed to look.”
He really has, flying around the field making plays on a regular basis.
“I feel like 2011 Patrick,” Peterson said. “I feel like I’m rejuvenated, feel like a rookie all over again. Just happy to be out here with the team. My first full OTA and mini-camp, this offseason. I’m ready to go.
“The boys are definitely proud that their leader is here and out here going through the sweat, blood and tears on the field with them as well. This offseason has been fun.”
Arians said there’s a possibility Peterson will go back to returning punts, an area he once excelled at. Whether it actually happens or not, the coach’s willingness to discuss the topic is just another sign that one of team’s young stars seems ready to get back to the lofty status he held not long ago.
Of course, Peterson’s main job is to shut down receivers, and he’s looking very capable of doing just that.
“Pat’s always moved fast, he’s been playing at an All-Pro level quite a while,” Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “It’s great to see him out there having fun. It goes along with the rest of the guys, but he’s going to play at a high level again for us this year.”
Though the real test will come once the pads are on in training camp, which figures to start in late July, the 24-year-old’s progress from where he was before to where he is now has clearly turned some heads.
If all goes according to plan that will continue into the regular season and beyond. Peterson said his primary focus this offseason was getting in shape, making sure his body was ready for the upcoming season.
“I didn’t like the way I played last year, so I wanted to make sure that this offseason I don’t let that happen again,” he said.