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After Journey, Bené Benwikere Turns Up With Cardinals

Veteran cornerback reunites with Wilks as he plays way into secondary

Cornerback Bene Benwikere makes an interception Friday night in New Orleans.
Cornerback Bene Benwikere makes an interception Friday night in New Orleans.

A thick gold chain hangs around the neck of Bené Benwikere, holding a custom pendant on his chest.

"TUoffTOz" the pendant says. It's Benwikere's own acronym, dreamed up when he was in college at San Jose State. It stands for "Turn Up off Turnoverz," which really should be self-explanatory for a cornerback who prides himself on getting at the ball.

"There are a lot of things people put up in their rooms, by the side of their beds, just to kind of remind them what you are doing it for and why," said Benwikere, who also uses the acronym as his Twitter handle. "I like to dance and have fun, this is my turn-up.

"I get the ball – and not just me, Patrick (Peterson) gets a pick, JT (Jamar Taylor), I'm gonna go with them, try to two-step with them. Just make sure we play smart while doing it."

Benwikere has been able to have some fun of late as he tries to make the roster as third cornerback/nickelback/swing safety. In the preseason opener, a solid defensive game was highlighted by a forced fumble that teammate Jeremy Cash returned for a touchdown. Last week, another solid game featured an acrobatic sideline interception of a deep pass.

Making the roster at this point seems like a foregone conclusion. For a guy who has struggled in that regard the last couple of years, the notion is only promising at this point.

"Just about putting your best foot forward, making plays and making sure they have a reason to keep you," he said.

The beginning of Benwikere's career put him in a different place. He was originally a fifth-round pick of the Panthers, working under Steve Wilks – then Carolina's defensive backs coach – and worked his way into the starting lineup.

But in his third season, having broken his leg late the year before, Benwikere's preparation and circumstance collided to create a hellacious fork in the road. Atlanta's Julio Jones scorched the Panthers for 300 yards receiving in a game, much of which came against Benwikere's coverage.

Despite playing solidly up until that point, the Panthers cut him. Benwikere acknowledges he's more mature than he had been, and as a young player he didn't quite understand the urgency or consistency needed in the NFL.

"Then you see it all crumble," he said.

He bounced around, briefly spending time with Miami, getting into a good situation with Cincinnati last year, before the Bengals traded him to Dallas before the 2017 regular season began. The Cowboys only gave him 10 defensive snaps all season.

"I understand his core DNA," said Wilks, whose history with Benwikere dates back to a pre-draft workout. "He ran into a rough spot (in Carolina) and he put that behind him. Second chances mean a lot to a lot of people. I recognize Bené's potential."

Benwikere works on multiple levels for the Cardinals. For a team that already has Peterson and has slotted Taylor as the other starting cornerback, Benwikere is a nice piece as a third cornerback who can play multiple spots.

His history with Wilks also gives him extensive experience with the defense, not only allowing him to focus more on studying opponents but also providing a player to help teach the defense to holdover Cardinals.

"When we first got here in OTAs, he was the main one speaking in the meeting room," safety Antoine Bethea said. "It was good to hear from a player's perspective. As leaders, you have to listen too, and it was good to have someone like Bené to come in and relay the message."

The message is important, but unless Benwikere can play, he won't be able to stick around in the first place. Wilks, like he did back in Carolina, seeks consistency from his former and current pupil.

If Benwikere – who just had his "TUoffTOz" chain made prior to last season -- can get a turnover or two in the process, it'll help turn up the entire secondary.

"Luckily coach Wilks wanted me here so I could show I could do that again," Benwikere said.