Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald gives rookie cornerback Brandon Williams a smile and a hug after beating him on a play during Wednesday's minicamp practice.
Within a matter of a few minicamp plays, Brandon Williams got both the low and the high of being a rookie cornerback.
First he was beat inside on a touchdown catch by Larry Fitzgerald, earning a pat on the head from the veteran receiver and some good-natured trash talk from the offensive side of the ball. But a short time later, Williams broke up a potential touchdown pass to Michael Floyd, and his veteran defensive teammates quickly congratulated him.
Over the course of the short offseason, "I've made big improvement," the Cardinals' third-round pick said. "Going
against all those receivers, Fitz, Michael Floyd, Brittan Golden, Jaron Brown, all those guys got me better."
The question is, will it be good enough for the running back-recently-turned-defensive back to earn significant defensive snaps this season?
"Brandon has a heck of a chance," coach Bruce Arians said.
That would be an upset, considering Williams just made his position switch prior to his final year in college. But Williams' length and speed were evident during offseason work, and injuries to Patrick Peterson (ankle) and Justin Bethel (foot) landed him on the No. 1 field, often going against the best receivers the Cardinals have.
Peterson returned for individual work this week. Bethel is confident he will be 100 percent by the time training camp will start, but Arians said Bethel's missed time has had an impact in Bethel's quest to earn the other starting job.
"(Others) are gaining on him because he's not out there," Arians said. "I don't get into experience. There are a lot of experienced guys who stink. We go after them every Sunday. Give me a guy who is talented."
Bethel has talent, too. That's why the Cardinals gave him a contract extension, and he still figures to have a strong opportunity once camp begins -- "In my mind, I'm the starter and I'm trying to prepare myself as such," Bethel said last month – although there are other possibilities. Signing a veteran before camp wouldn't be a shock, although given the influx of young defensive backs, that isn't a given.
Sixth-round pick Harlan Miller was showing well in offseason work before a hamstring pull knocked him off the field.
Williams, meanwhile, has made noticeable strides. In one recent OTA he made his first two interceptions, including one in front of Fitzgerald. Arians noted two other picks, and likes the fact Williams has been open to coaching, whether it was from Peterson while he was sidelined or from cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who isn't afraid to let Williams have it if necessary.
"Tough love," Williams said. "That's his motto. If you mess up, he's going to tell you and if you do right, he's not going to say anything because he expects you to make those plays."
Arians had the same expectations. The head coach doesn't want to talk about Williams being raw, or that it is surprising he has flashed.
"That's why we took him in the third round," Arians said. "It ain't hard to play 'dude' coverage. You got to know what 'dude' coverage is: 'You got that dude.' "
The Cardinals wrap up minicamp -- and offseason work -- with a final practice.