Arizona Cardinals’ season could hinge on cornerback play
By Jim Koch
The Arizona Cardinals are taking a huge risk with Justin Bethel being given the number-two cornerback post in their secondary
Justin Bethel of the Arizona Cardinals has apparently come a long way in the eyes of head coach Bruce Arians. The cornerback, once referred to by the coach as a “failure in progress “, has been handed the starting spot opposite Patrick Peterson. It’s a decision that could have a major impact on the success of the Cardinals this upcoming season.
Bethel’s competition for the gig wasn’t strong. The only corner that stood out at all during the team’s three preseason games this summer was Brandon Williams. The Cards’ 2016 third-round draft pick’s play was spot-on last week during the club’s 24-23 loss to the Chicago Bears.
The other candidate in the race, Tramon Williams, just arrived on July 30th. The 34-year old seemed to be showing his age versus Chicago. The former Green Bay Packer tackled well enough, but struggled to cover the backup wide receivers of the Bears.
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Bethel has also failed to distinguish himself in the exhibition contests. Arizona’s decision to go with the 27-year old must have been based on his play in practice. A solid showing in training camp can’t be disregarded, but producing while facing live opponents is much more valuable in the evaluation process.
Playing across from Peterson in the Cardinals’ defensive backfield is no easy picnic. Whoever is thrust into that role must be prepared to see a bunch of passes thrown their way. Opposing quarterbacks tend to steer clear of Peterson, a six-time Pro Bowler, on gamedays.
Since Peterson emerged as one of the best players in the NFL, there was one cornerback who served as a great partner for him. In 2014, Antonio Cromartie signed a one-year “prove-it ” contract with the Cards. “Cro” proved up to the task, playing so well that he was voted a Pro Bowl alternate at the end of the campaign.
Bethel could certainly benefit from excelling this year. He accepted a pay cut this past March, and in return will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2017. If the product of Presbyterian College plays well this Fall, he could perhaps parlay the success into a big payday next offseason.
Unless general manager Steve Keim has a trade up his sleeve, Arizona’s starting cornerbacks are set. If Bethel can improve, the defense has a chance to be special. His playing well would put the “failure in progress ” label to rest forever.
And also make the Cardinals’ goals for ’17 much more attainable.