Arizona Cardinals’ special teams standout Justin Bethel wants added responsibility
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Good news travels fast, especially when the news is you’ve made the team before the first preseason game.
“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that,” second-year defensive back Justin Bethel said.
What he heard, presumably from others, was what head coach Bruce Arians had told the media earlier, “We know what he can do on special teams” referring to Bethel. “He’s one of those guys. He’s going to be here. He has a resume on special teams that sets him apart from the other corners he’s competing with, so yeah, they’ve got to beat him out.”
Arians singled out Bethel when asked about players who, while they may be very good on special teams, may have to play at their other positions to make the 53-man roster.
“Four guys will make the team strictly on special teams,” Arians said. “They may be the fifth safety. They’ll take the fourth safety’s job because they’re that good. They might be the fifth linebacker. They’ll take the fourth linebacker’s job. You’ve got to bite the bullet (on roster decisions) and make sure that your special teams are solid. We’re very good with return people. It’s coverage people that you’re looking for.”
Bethel is one of those coverage people, specifically as a gunner on punt coverage.
“I try not to even think about it,” he said when asked about Arians’ comments. “Last year, the same kind of thing happened.”
What happened was Bethel exploded on the scene, blocking a field goal, a punt (that he would return for a touchdown) and an extra point attempt in the first two preseason games.
At the time, then-head coach Ken Whisenhunt called it a “safe bet” Bethel would make the team. He did, as a sixth-round draft pick out of Presbyterian College, a small school in Clinton, S.C.
“I try and tell people I don’t want to look at (the preseason highlights) and then think, ‘OK, well I don’t have to work as hard. I can get complacent.’ You don’t want to let that complacency set in. I still got the goal of coming out here every day and try and make plays,” Bethel said.
And to be known as more than just a special teams guru.
“I want to be known for (being) a great special teams player, but I still want to be able to do more for the team just in case people get hurt during the season I can come in. They know they can count on me and there’s not going to be any kind of drop-off in level of play.”
Bethel has settled in at the cornerback position — after seeing time at both corner and safety a year ago — and is making good progress, according to Arians, who hopes to use the 23-year-old in dime packages.
“I always wanted to play corner because I liked the position,” Bethel said. “With the help of the guys, Coach (Kevin) Ross, Pat (Patrick Peterson), Javier (Arenas) and all those guys, we come out, do 1-on-1s, try and help me fix things that I haven’t really been doing and get my technique better.”
Bethel, though, won’t forget what got him in the NFL in the first place.
“(Special teams) can change the game just like any other phase of the game,” he said.