Arizona Cardinals CB Justin Bethel: I’m capable of being a starter

Jun 1, 2016, 3:15 PM | Updated: Jun 3, 2016, 11:19 am
Justin Bethel walks around during OTAs. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)...
Justin Bethel walks around during OTAs. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)
(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Wearing an oversized white sun hat, cornerback Justin Bethel is easily spotted among Arizona Cardinals coaches and players during organized team activities.

While his teammates participate in drills, including 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 work, Bethel is watching intently, often times taking notes and shouting instructions.

He stays active without being active while he recovers from offseason foot surgery.

Bethel is keeping up with his fellow cornerbacks by taking mental reps.

“Being able to just watch, you see a couple of things, things you might’ve had questions on, and you get to see it play out over and over again. You get to see every rep. I think that helps me with solidifying what I think I know on the plays. I usually go through the calls. I see motions and stuff. I’ll call out what I think; trying to help the other guys out,” he said.

“I do the physical stuff I can, but right now it’s more mentally for me getting what I need to get out of these practices.”

Bethel is four years into an NFL career that has seen him get selected to the Pro Bowl in each of the past three seasons.

The Cardinals now expect Bethel to become a starting cornerback.

“I think I’m capable of being a great starting corner,” he said Tuesday.

Bethel made five starts last season, three times filling in for Jerraud Powers and twice after Tyrann Mathieu went down with a season-ending ACL injury, which forced Powers to move inside.

To say Bethel was picked on by opposing quarterbacks would be an understatement.

For one, he lacked experience at the position and two, Patrick Peterson kept throws to his side of the field at a minimum with his play.

“Last year was my first year of really going out there and playing. I think for me the biggest thing is just getting that feel of it and getting more comfortable in the position,” said Bethel, who was drafted as a safety. “Once I get enough time playing it, especially during training camp and getting those reps, I’ll be more comfortable at it and I’ll just keep getting better and better.”

The Cardinals are banking on that.

In December, they rewarded Bethel, 25, with a three-year, $15 million contract extension, including $9 million guaranteed; and then this offseason allowed Powers to depart for Baltimore via free agency.

At some point last season Bethel suffered a left-foot fracture, yet he still played all 16 games plus two more in the playoffs.

Bethel managed the pain — “usually before a game I would take some ibuprofen or something to try and calm it down,” he said — but certain plays, mainly on special teams, would cause the pain to flare up again.

“It would come and go. I knew it was there, and certain things would bother it, but I tried to not let it affect me too much,” he said.

The pain is now gone, as is the boot Bethel wore following surgery, which has allowed him to do some light work on the treadmill.

“(Rehab) is coming along good; excited about the progress,” he said, then added with a smile. “After awhile you just start getting tired of sitting on the sideline.”

Bethel said he’d be back on the field “for sure by training camp,” where he once again intends to display his cornerback ability.

Last season Bethel set career highs with 29 tackles and two interceptions — including a pick-6 against San Francisco in Week 3 — and nine passes defensed.

“I’ve been making strides every year,” he said, “and so going out there knowing I’m 100 percent and knowing I don’t have anything to worry about (and) anything breaking while I’m out there, I’m just ready to go out there mentally, physically and be way better than I was the year before.”

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