In the first seven years of his career, Patrick Peterson had one job.
The Cardinals’ cornerback would find the opponent’s most lethal receiving threat, set up camp in his hip pocket and refuse to leave for the entirety of the game. The ability to do so at an elite level made him a perennial Pro Bowler and put him in the conversation as the NFL’s best cover man.
“I was an artist at taking No. 1 receivers out of the game, and I was pretty damn good at it,” Peterson said.
That era has ended.
Peterson said he will have a variety of new responsibilities in the Cardinals’ defensive scheme under coach Steve Wilks. There will still be some press coverage of No. 1 receivers, but he will also play off the ball and blitz.
Peterson has been frustrated at times with his inability to make impact plays in recent years, and his well-defined role didn’t help because opposing quarterbacks knew how to avoid him. He believes more varied duties could lead to an uptick in tangible production.
For instance, if Peterson starts plays a few yards off a receiver, it may give him a shot at more interceptions.
“It should be fun,” Peterson said. “I’m looking to make a ton of plays this year. I’m looking to start jumping routes now. I’m looking to be a little bit more aggressive off the ball, and be the same as I am when I’m in the receiver’s face.”
Peterson is excited about his blossoming relationship with Wilks, the first defensive-minded head coach of his career and a former defensive back himself. Even though Peterson is among the best players in the NFL, Wilks is pushing him to reach another gear.
“The one thing I try to challenge Patrick with each and every day … is that sometimes guys are so gifted that even at 85-to-90 percent, they’re better than the guys around them,” Wilks said. “I used to tell Josh Norman the same thing: you’ve got to learn how to compete against yourself. It’s not about the guys around you. You try to get better each and every day.
“Patrick is trying to position himself long-term to one day be in Canton (as a Hall of Famer). To be able to do that, you’ve got to start separating yourself even more. So that’s the challenge I try to give him.”
Peterson seems reinvigorated by the new coach and the new role, soaking up instruction on off-ball coverage strategy.
“Now I have to be able to play with my eyes, play with vision,” Peterson said. “Those little nuggets he’s been giving me over the last two months have been a tremendous help.”
When asked how he feels about blitzing, Peterson flashed a smile and let out a hearty laugh.
“I feel great,” Peterson said. “It’ll give me an opportunity to show up on the stat sheet somehow.”
Peterson brought high value to the Cardinals by shadowing star receivers in recent years, but a player with obscene talent always wants to show it off, and opponents could mitigate him in the past. Peterson believes the new style will give him a better shot at making a splash.
“Over the last seven years, everyone who played against me knew exactly what I was going to be in,” Peterson said. “When they come here and play in Arizona, nine times out of ten we didn’t see what they ran in the previous game plan. “It was always a lot of motions and a lot of stacks to get my hands off (the No. 1 wideout). Now they have to play a little bit more honest to where I’m still going to be in a little bit of press, but now my game has evolved into playing off the ball as well.”
Images from the second day of mandatory minicamp