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Justin Bethel Backed Into A Corner

Posted Jul 24, 2017

Veteran still trying to grab a starting role although questions remain

Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel is finally trying to earn a starting job.

Back in 2012, when Justin Bethel was an unknown safety drafted out of tiny Presbyterian College in the sixth-round, the transition to NFL defensive back was overwhelming.

“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,’ ” Bethel said. “At that point I was just trying to make the team.”

Bethel was both a safety and cornerback in those days, excelling instead as a special teams ace that eventually earned him multiple Pro Bowl berths. When Bruce Arians arrived as coach, it was decided Bethel would be a cornerback only. There were hopes his athleticism would translate to the position.

But it hasn’t yet. Now, Bethel will try to make it work. One more time.

The Cardinals need a starting cornerback opposite Patrick Peterson. Bethel received a lucrative contract extension at the end of the 2015 season in part because the Cardinals thought he could be that guy. But Bethel, who battled a foot fracture at the end of the 2015 season, reinjured himself in the offseason and never recovered. He never was a factor as a potential starter, not until injuries forced it.

In the meantime, the Cards drafted a cornerback in the third round of 2016 – Brandon Williams – and this past offseason, sliced a year off Bethel’s current contract, making him a free agent after the season. It seems likely they at least will try to sign a veteran – a report Monday said Brandon Flowers is scheduled to visit.

There is uncertainty. Yet Bethel smiles through it. He doesn’t see why he wouldn’t.

“I’ve never been the type to hold grudges, or (think) ‘They are doing this because of that,’ ” Bethel said. “For me, I know I didn’t play well. I didn’t play up to the ability of when I signed that contract what they thought I could do. I understand. For me, it’s like, ‘Hey, do what you can do.’ I know everything will work out.”

Everything working out may or may not end up in Arizona, although that’s Bethel’s hope. Until/unless a veteran is signed, the No. 2 job seems to be between Bethel and Williams. Coach Bruce Arians called it “wide-open” although he noted Bethel has looked good in his offseason of work.

 A starter, Arians said, likely won’t be named until the regular season arrives.

“Once he makes the 53,” Arians said. “Got to make the 53 first.”

Williams, who played running back until his senior year of college, brushed off the idea the two were competing. Both are just doing their jobs, Williams said.

[READ: CB BRANDON FLOWERS TO VISIT?]

“Knowing you got yourself mentally and physically ready for that battle, you have no reason to doubt yourself,” Williams added. “I know I did more than enough to be ready for camp and preseason.”

Bethel is confident himself, buoyed by his healthy foot. Frustrated he couldn’t practice all last offseason – and not himself in camp – even his special teams play wasn’t what it normally was last year. Bethel knows the cornerback job had been his to lose, making the injury that much more difficult.

“It definitely sucked,” he said.

Even dating back to a couple of missed plays in the Green Bay playoff game after the 2015 season, Bethel has always been willing to acknowledge his shortcomings. Whether it’s his health, or growing comfortable with his situation, he still wears a wide smile.

If he starts, he starts. If he doesn’t, he insists he’ll help the team in whatever way needed. The contract is not an issue, nor is Arians’ long-ago “failure-in-progress” line. The coach has praised Bethel every step of the offseason, and now comes the point where Bethel the cornerback shows up. Or not.

 “I go out and work as hard as I can and whatever comes, comes,” Bethel said. “It’s been a fun journey. I’ve excelled in one area to the highest level that you can, and it’s given me the ability to try and excel in another area. That’s the transition I’m in right now.”

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