Arizona Cardinals defensive back Justin Bethel is known around the NFL as being a special teams ace, not as a defensive player.
The four-year veteran is coming off back-to-back Pro Bowl appearances as a special teams player and has previously won a NFC Special Teams Player of the Week and Month award for the team in 2014.
Last year, Bethel was a beast on the special teams unit, recording 18 tackles, blocking a field goal and forcing a fumble on a punt return.
The one thing he has yet to do during his career is become a player to be reckon with at the position he is listed as in the media guide, a cornerback. That all changed on Sunday when Bethel picked off Colin Kaepernick on his first defensive snap of the season, returning the interception for the first score in the Cardinals 47-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Bethel was very excited about the moment and talked about the play on the Burns & Gambo show of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Monday afternoon.
“That’s a great way to start it off, coming out and getting a pick-six is a way to be out there more often,” he said.
The sixth-round pick out of Presbyterian had an awakening before the play, visually seeing himself in the end zone before Kaepernick ever snapped the ball.
He credits his preparedness to paying attention in practice and trusting his instincts.
“I got the same exact play during practice and had a great break on it during practice,” Bethel said. “I was thinking when (Vernon Davis) was lined up outside, he was doing a lot of out-routes, so I kind of knew it was coming.
“Before the play was even hiked, I had a vision of the play and picking it and saw everything happening before it even happened. It was crazy.”
Bethel’s interception set the tone for a career-day from the Cardinals defense, which forced four Kaepernick interceptions, caused a safety and sacked the quarterback two times. In fact, the only time the 49ers even crossed midfield was when they got a big punt return from Jarryd Hayne that led to the Niners lone score.
The defense picked up on San Francisco’s game plan early on with Kaepernick behind the helm at quarterback and Bethel credits the defensive line as the key to the defense’s big performance.
“We got great pressure up front that it made him force his throws and make decisions quicker than he wanted to,” Bethel said. “There was nothing complex going on. Not a lot of motions or anything like that, so it was something that we were picking up on.”
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