Cornerback Justin Bethel (28) breaks to wide receiver Ted Ginn on a play during the Cardinals' minicamp.
The offseason was nearing its end and the Cardinals were in the middle of minicamp when Bruce Arians paid cornerback Justin Bethel an impressive compliment.
“He can be our best,” said Arians, not flinching once considering he has Patrick Peterson in his locker room.
And to that, not surprisingly, Bethel smiled.
“That’s pretty awesome,” Bethel said, although it wasn’t as if it hadn’t ever crossed his mind. “Every cornerback is always thinking they can be the best.”
It’s the natural next step. Bethel, headed into his third season with the Cardinals, has already established himself as a Pro Bowl
special teams player and arguably the best special teamer in the league. Those skills were a big reason why the Cards grabbed him in the sixth round in 2012 out of tiny Presbyterian College.
Bethel wants more though. So do the Cardinals.
“He’s got all the skill level to be as good as there is, including Patrick,” Arians said. “This kid has an unbelievable skill set.”
It helped that when Arians and his coaches arrived last year, they looked at video of Bethel and decided he was going to be a full-time cornerback. In Bethel’s rookie season, then-defensive coordinator Ray Horton used him all over the secondary after Bethel was drafted as a safety. It didn’t work out that well.
“I was playing nickel, corner, safety, and it was overload,” Bethel said. “There was no way I was going to do it. I couldn’t soak it all in, especially coming from that small school. Last year, once I realized I was just playing corner, I dedicated everything to getting my speed down, working on my hips, working on technique. I am happy I’m in a position to go out and do something. I don’t take it for granted.”
This offseason, Arians talked often about how Bethel was in positions to get to the ball, something that should only keep improving over time. The coach also believes Bethel’s Pro Bowl selection did more than just stamp Bethel’s résumé. He thinks it gave Bethel a “swagger.”
That notion made Bethel chuckle.
“Maybe. I don’t know,” Bethel said. “Everybody is always bugging me, ‘Mr. Pro Bowl.’ I’m the same guy. Laughing, smiling. Coach sees me and says, ‘Hey Smiley.” I start laughing. I just try to stay humble.”
It’s a little more difficult to stay humble when the coach is saying you can be the best cornerback on the team. Where Bethel exactly fits defensively remains uncertain. Peterson and Antonio Cromartie are the starters. When healthy, Tyrann Mathieu is the nickel, and Jerraud Powers is still in place to contend for playing time.
Yet “we talked to him about counting on him,” Arians said. “He’s got the ability to be a top flight corner.”
Which was always Bethel’s plan -- with or without Arians’ big endorsement.
“I’ve been the best special teams player. Now I want to be the best corner,” Bethel said. “Every day, you try to get better. You got Pat, got Cro, and I take what I can from them. One of these days hopefully I can be a starter and be one of the best in the league.”
A collection of our favorite Justin Bethel photos.