Decision made: Arizona Cardinals CB Justin Bethel will play despite painful foot

Sep 14, 2016, 7:23 PM | Updated: Sep 15, 2016, 11:20 am
Arizona Cardinals' Justin Bethel, right, reaches out to catch the football as Patrick Peterson, lef...
Arizona Cardinals' Justin Bethel, right, reaches out to catch the football as Patrick Peterson, left, tries to tap it away during practice at the NFL football team's training camp Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Playing with pain is nothing new to Arizona Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel. He played with pain for much of last season, and it appears he will again this season.

He has to. And, perhaps more importantly, he wants to.

The suggestion Bethel may be shut down to allow the pain in his left foot to fully subside was brought up earlier in the week.

“Justin has to decide that he’s going to play with that foot,” head coach Bruce Arians told reporters Monday. “He was just an average spectator on special teams (in the season opener against New England). He missed two tackles. If he’s going to play, he needs to play better. Or he shouldn’t play.”

Asked about those comments, Bethel, a three-time Pro Bowler on special teams, didn’t disagree with the harsh assessment.

“Those are two plays that usually I would make,” he said, adding his lack of preseason play contributed to his performance. “I think it was just knocking that rust off a little bit and getting used to being able to break and stuff. Definitely, I agree with him. I didn’t play to the level that I should have. I plan on coming out next week making some plays and making something happen.”

The question is whether Bethel will be able to given the pain, which he called “definitely worse” than last season when he played with a slight fracture.

Bethel underwent surgery in April to repair the issue, but then suffered a setback while working out prior to training camp.

At this point, rest, and a lot of it, would appear to be the only remedy.

“The way I am I can’t see myself doing that because even if I can’t do defense I know I’m needed on special teams, and it’s not to the point where I can’t go,” he said Wednesday. “I’m one of those guys unless I can’t walk then I probably won’t go, but if I feel like I can take a Tylenol or something and feel a little better to where I can do something, I’m going to go out there and play.”

The trick, according to Bethel, is to manage the pain.

“If I can get to where I was last year, that would be perfectly fine,” he said. “The way it is now sometimes it gets a little more sore the more I’m on it, but it’s been getting better. It feels better than it did last week and then just hopefully every day it just gets a little better.”

Though Bethel was less than his best Week 1, he believes he broke up some scar tissue in the foot, which should improve his movement. The early indication is that’s exactly what has happened.

“Better,” Arians said, when asked how Bethel looked in practice. “He’s getting used to (the pain) and he had a really nice interception to end practice. He looks better.”

Added Bethel, “I was able to move around pretty good today.”

Another positive sign is that “full” appeared next to Bethel’s name on the injury report, meaning he was a full participant in practice. Bethel was limited all of last week.

Against New England, Bethel did not play a single snap on defense, seeing all of his time (22 snaps) on special teams. Rookie Brandon Williams played exclusively opposite Patrick Peterson.

The Cardinals need Bethel to be a factor defensively. It’s a big reason why they signed him to a contract extension a year ago and then let Jerraud Powers walk in free agency.

“As time goes on, hopefully I can get back out there on defense and play a little,” Bethel said, knowing he must prove it in practice first. “Going into the first game I kind of knew that was going to be the case just because the way I was feeling and it probably wouldn’t have worked out. I definitely, hopefully can just keep practicing and like I said get better every day and play some ‘D’.”

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Decision made: Arizona Cardinals CB Justin Bethel will play despite painful foot