James Bettcher is heading into his second season as the defensive coordinator of the Arizona Cardinals.
Going into 2015, he was dogged by questions of experience. After all, Bettcher had just four years of NFL coaching experience before he took over as the coordinator replacing Todd Bowles, who became the head coach of the New York Jets.
By the end of the season, those questions had evaporated. The Cardinals went 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game, helped by a defense that ranked fifth in the league in yards allowed.
Much more comfortable heading into year two, Bettcher deflects the praise with the savvy of a much more experienced coach.
“I’ve told everybody this a ton of times: I’ve got a great group of outstanding coaches on defense to do this with,” he told Doug and Wolf Wednesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “That makes a world of difference. And obviously, having some pretty dang good players is important, too.
“These guys played their butts off. We focused on the little things. We focused on effort. We focused on technique. We focused on communication — the things that in a lot of eyes, are small and little and sometimes monotonous to talk about, but they’re 90 percent of the game. So that’s what we focus on and we’ve got a great group of coaches.”
After last week’s draft, Bettcher will be armed with new talent for his defense in 2016. Four of the Cardinals’ six selections were defensive players, including Robert Nkemdiche, a defensive tackle out of Mississippi picked in the first round.
Bettcher is excited to have Nkemdiche in the mix.
“Robert is one explosive, disruptive player,” he said. “When he gets here, honestly in our eyes, he can play the 3 (technique) or the 5 — inside or outside. He can play over the center at the nose position and has a lot of versatility.”
Bettcher explained that Nkemdiche will start his training at the defensive end position, similar to what Calais Campbell and Frostee Rucker play in the Cardinals’ 3-4 scheme.
“That’s where he’ll start, then from there as he grows in the position and learns the scheme, we’ll have a whole lot of fun from there,” Bettcher said.
The Cardinals also drafted three defensive backs — cornerback Brandon Williams from Texas A&M in the third round, safety Marqui Christian from Midwestern State in the fifth round and corner Harlan Miller from Southeast Louisiana in the sixth.
Bettcher echoed the positive sentiments of others in the organization about his new personnel.
“A guy that’s really versatile,” Bettcher said about Christian. “A guy that’s got some really good feet and hips and is explosive and can play over the slot or play over the tight end. He’s a really good tackler in space and isn’t afraid to throw his body around.”
Williams is considered by most to be an intriguing, raw talent. After starting his career at Oklahoma as a running back, he transferred to Texas A&M and finished as a corner.
“Brandon has some talents that are some of those things where you say ‘that’s not coachable’ when he’s running around and changing directions,” Bettcher said. “I think a thing a corner has to have is transitional quicks — so he’s got to be quick in and out of his breaks on a ball, and he has that naturally.”
All of the Cardinals newcomers will be participating in rookie minicamp which runs Friday through Sunday at the team’s training facility in Tempe.