Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel emotes after scoring a touchdown against the 49ers last season.
As his teammates were finishing up another day of on-field work Tuesday, Justin Bethel was finishing rehab on his surgically repaired left foot.
Draft weekend was filled with the Cardinals taking defensive backs, but the Cards' top three current cover guys – Bethel, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu – all are sidelined this offseason recovering from injury. All are expected back for training camp (assuming Mathieu's ACL recovery goes well) and that is important for Bethel most of all.
Last year's starter Jerraud Powers remains a free agent and seems unlikely to return, meaning it is Bethel in line to be
the full-time cornerback starter across from Peterson in 2016.
"In my mind, I'm the starter and I'm trying to prepare myself as such," Bethel said.
Bethel also believes he was better at cornerback last season than most give him credit for, and after signing a three-year, $15 million contract extension in early December, he carries that confidence into his role for this season.
"I know people say I had a couple bad games but truthfully, I feel like there was what they considered bad was I had like three or four plays that were bad," Bethel said. "But in the whole scheme of things I had a good year for the time I played.
"Obviously I will go back and look at the film and see those specific plays and see what it is (to be corrected). When you are running around and the quarterback is scrambling around for seven seconds, you don't know if the ball is coming … there are little things I have to work on but I really didn't feel like I had a bad season. I felt like I made a lot of plays and I will build off the good plays I made."
Bethel, who made his third straight Pro Bowl on special teams, played full-time as a defensive back after Mathieu tore his ACL. It moved Powers to the slot in nickel situations and Bethel came out to play on the edge. One of his mistakes came in the national spotlight, allowing Jeff Janis to get behind him for a 60-yard catch on fourth-and-20 in the playoff game against the Packers, setting up Green Bay's Hail Mary touchdown.
But Bethel did have a key interception in the Cardinals' regular-season victory over Green Bay and started the early-season rout of the 49ers by coming up with an interception return for a touchdown on his first defensive snap of the season.
Whether newcomers like Brandon Williams or Harlan Miller could actually wrest the job from Bethel seems like a longshot (the Cardinals could at some point sign a veteran, but salary cap limitations could curtail options), but they might be able to aid Bethel in terms of rest on special teams.
"I don't think I'll ever just be a cornerback," Bethel said. "I think I'll always have something to do on special teams just because of what I have done in the past."
In April, Bethel gave $100,000 to Blythewood High School in South Carolina – his alma mater. He thought it'd be a quiet affair, until he showed up to a gym full of students and media covering the event. That's how the world noticed Bethel on crutches, after his foot broke during a workout.
When he returns in training camp, Bethel wants to grab hold of the starting job he's been trying to earn. For now, it means rehab and focusing on the playbook.
"So when I get on the field, it's not about me thinking about what I have to do but just getting in shape and working on technique," Bethel said.
The Cardinals take the field on the second day of Phase 2 work