With first-team reps, Arizona Cardinals’ Justin Bethel works on being a cornerback

Aug 13, 2015, 1:36 PM
Justin Bethel battled Larry Fitzgerald down the field during Arizona Cardinals training camp. (Phot...
Justin Bethel battled Larry Fitzgerald down the field during Arizona Cardinals training camp. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)
(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — It’s fair to say this is a big season for Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel.

Not in a “he better play well or he’ll be out of a job” kind of way, but rather in a “it’s high time he proves he can handle playing cornerback” kind of way.

A two-time Pro Bowler because of his outstanding play on special teams, the 25-year-old has made no secret of his desire to make more of an impact on the defensive side of the ball, where he has just seven total tackles and one fumble recovery in his career.

Bethel entered camp battling Jerraud Powers for the starting cornerback job opposite Patrick Peterson, and given the former’s track record, he figured to be at a disadvantage. But Powers suffered an oblique injury last Saturday, and while he has been sidelined, Bethel has received first-team reps, matching up against receivers like Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown.

“At this point, that was the big thing for me, just hoping I can get a lot of reps,” Bethel said. “His injury has given me a chance to go out there, get more reps, work on my technique. Especially with great guys going against Fitz and guys like that.

“It’s definitely a blessing, but I still hope he gets back and gets healthy because we definitely need him.”

Until Powers gets back, Bethel will continue to make his case as a cornerback.

Asked Wednesday how Bethel has fared, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, “I think he did really, really well. He was a victim of some perfect throws, but he had really good coverage.”

There’s just no stopping a perfectly-placed pass.

“That’s life of a cornerback,” Bethel said. “You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. You just try to win more than you lose.”

In his fourth season since being selected in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, the Presbyterian product has already proven his value to the team. Last season, Bethel led the Cardinals with 18 special teams tackles, blocked a field goal and forced a fumble on a punt return. That will continue to be a big part of Bethel’s game, but in this camp he’s focused on improving as a cornerback.

“My man press technique is getting a lot better,” he said. “Now, for me, it’s just playing off and staying low when I get tired, and just keep working on my technique when that fatigue starts to set in.”

One of the receivers Bethel has matched up against a good amount over the last few days, John Brown, said he’s seen a better Bethel, a player who can step in at corner if the team needs him to.

“The thing that I’ve noticed about Justin is he’s more patient,” Brown said. “He’s always been a physical guy, and he has speed — he can really run with me. So that’s a good thing for him.”

Unfortunately for Bethel, Powers got back on the practice field late in the week and figures to re-assume his role as the team’s No. 2 cornerback going forward. However, his stint as a starter may have turned a few heads, and as Bethel knows, his biggest opportunity may still be on the horizon.

“They’ve been looking for a third corner, so I’m trying to be that guy,” he said. “And if something happens, I’ll be able to step in and play at a high level if somebody goes down.”

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With first-team reps, Arizona Cardinals’ Justin Bethel works on being a cornerback