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Smart Jerraud Powers completes secondary

Cornerback Arians sees as defensive MVP quietly plays important role

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Jerraud Powers can play outside cornerback, in the slot, or safety for the Cardinals.


Jerraud Powers had a rare group interview session with the media on Tuesday, and the second question asked of him concerned the health of safety Tyrann Mathieu.

Such is life for the Cardinals' cornerback.

Powers has started every game of his professional career – including all 16 a season ago -- but the soft-spoken sixth-year veteran has never had the name cachet of Mathieu or Patrick Peterson. He's slid deeper into anonymity this year, after the Cardinals signed cornerback Antonio Cromartie in free agency and drafted safety Deone Bucannon in the first round.

However, Powers' lack of outside appeal belies the esteem he is held in by the Cardinals. Coach Bruce Arians said

he is the defense's most valuable player because of his flexibility to play four different positions. Mathieu has been a keen observer at each training camp practice and believes Powers has been the best defensive back.

Powers may never be in a commercial or on a cereal box, but there is no shortage of admiration for him in the NFL.

"Your peers -- players from other teams, your teammates and coaches -- understand and see your hard work and know what you've been doing," Powers said. "Even though you might not get the recognition that the next guy gets, that's kind of what you look for. You don't want to be the type of player that the next guy doesn't respect."

The addition of Cromartie has pushed Powers into a backup role for the first time, but he will still be busy. Until Mathieu returns, Powers will be the principle cover man against slot receivers in nickel situations. He can also play on the outside as he did in 2013, or fill in at safety.

"He's done it all in his career and in college, and he's always been really, really good at it," Arians said.

As the proliferation of the passing game continues, cornerbacks are more valuable than ever.

With Powers and Mathieu available to cover the slot, it allows Peterson and Cromartie to stick on the outside. In turn, it makes the secondary stronger.

"I've been playing the nickel since college," Powers said. "Tyrann's been playing the nickel since college. For the guys who have been doing it a long time, it's a natural feel for us to move in the slot and do it. When you get the bigger guys like Pat or Cromartie or a Richard Sherman, guys of that size, it might be a little more difficult for them to play slot because it's a whole different ballgame than just being outside."

Powers may not have the innate athleticism present in some of his teammates, but mentally he's ahead of the game. At practice on Monday he hauled in a pair of interceptions. On the second one, he made a diving catch when wide receiver Walt Powell tipped a pass in the air. If it took Powers a split-second longer to recognize the play's development, he would not have been there on time.

"He's the smartest player on that side of the ball," Arians said.

Powers was an adequate starting cornerback a season ago, registering 65 tackles, 17 pass deflections and one interception, and the additions of Cromartie and Bucannon have fortified the secondary. The Cardinals made their hay defensively last year based on their elite front seven, but with the departures of linebackers Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington, more responsibility will be placed on the defensive backs.

The Seahawks showed last season just how valuable that unit can be, as the "Legion of Boom" played a key role in the team's march to the Super Bowl title. Powers, though, does not see Seattle's group as a measuring stick.

"They have a great secondary," he said. "They've been doing a great job the last few years or so, but we don't come in here saying we have to be better than Seattle's secondary. We want to be the best secondary in the league, period."

If the Cardinals' defensive backs do elevate their play, the credit will naturally go to players like Peterson, Mathieu and Cromartie, as it has to Sherman and Seahawks All-Pro safety Earl Thomas. But it takes a village to raise a child, and if Powers can excel as a jack-of-all-trades contributor, it increases the likelihood of position-wide improvement.

"I think a lot is expected out of Pat and Cromartie, and he's kind of the guy who is in the shadows," Mathieu said. "I think that drives him."

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