Mark J. Rebilas/USA Today Sports

Cardinals have higher expectations for Bethel

Arizona Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians said Wednesday he expects Justin Bethel to make progress at cornerback because he thinks he'll finally be able to practice after recovering from a broken foot.

Arizona Cardinals' head coach Bruce Arians has a theory, and this offseason, his theory is looking stronger.

Arians has insisted that it doesn't matter who the Cardinals start on the side of the field opposite All-Pro Patrick Peterson at cornerback, because regardless of how talented that player is, opposing teams are always going to throw the ball away from Peterson.

While Arizona would love to be able to pair another player of Peterson's caliber with him on the field at the same time, the Cardinals know that's entirely unrealistic. Though Cardinals' fans were at times frustrated by the efforts of cornerback Marcus Cooper, who started the majority of Arizona's games at cornerback last season, Arians routinely said that Cooper was a strong option for the team at cornerback and that he was targeted more frequently because of Peterson's presence on the other side of the field.

"I don't care who you put on the other side of Patrick, he's getting picked on," Arians said. "I mean, Cro (Antonio Cromartie) went back to the Pro Bowl at the end of his career cause he was opposite of Patrick. Coop (Cooper), everybody thought we didn't have one last year, he's making a lot of money now."

After stepping into the Cardinals' starting lineup in week three of the 2016 season, Cooper wound up being named a Pro Bowl alternate and signed a three-year, $16 million contract with the Chicago Bears during the first week of free agency.

Cooper's departure means that once again, the Cardinals are going to need to search for a solution opposite Peterson, and as Arians has theorized, it really doesn't matter who the team inserts into the lineup, because that player will face his fair share of tests. 

The leading candidates to replace Cooper in the starting lineup are both in-house already, as Arians remains high on 2016 third round draft choice Brandon Williams and longtime special teams ace Justin Bethel.

Williams started the first two games of his career as a rookie, but was lifted in place of Cooper early in the year and struggled to regain a spot in the Cardinals' rotation. 

"And so I think Brandon (Williams) is going to be fine, he got thrown into the fire, had a few communication problems, that's where I think that leadership back there is going to help," Arians said.

Bethel, meanwhile, was actually expected to begin the 2016 season as Arizona's starting cornerback, but didn't recover from offseason foot surgery in time to earn enough practice repetitions.

Arians said Wednesday that Bethel has been held back by his foot for the better part of two seasons, and that if he's healthy and able to compete for reps this offseason and in training camp, that he should be a series contender to break into Arizona's lineup.

"I think Justin Bethel is going to play a hell of a lot better if he can finally practice," Arians said. "He hasn't practiced for two years on that broken foot so he can now have a chance to really compete as a corner and get better rather than throwing him out there when we just had to have him. And that's not fair to him. But I think he's going to really take off with it this spring so I feel fine with those guys and this draft is loaded with corners."

Though the Cardinals haven't addressed the cornerback position in free agency yet, Arians indicated the team would be comfortable finding an asset through the draft because this year's class is so deep in the defensive backfield. 

Arians indicated he'd be even more comfortable relying on a young cornerback early in his rookie season if the NFL allowed the Cardinals to teach their bump-and-run coverage techniques during offseason training activities. Arians said that unlike many other positions, cornerback is one where players can easily make the jump from college to the NFL, and that he wished the league would be more flexible with its rules regarding player contact in the offseason. 

"Corner is a position where I don't think you need two or three years to learn how to play bump and run and man to man," Arians said. "That's your dude, you're in coverage. You got your dude, go get him. We'll teach you how to bump maybe a little bit better. Another one of my pet peeves is in OTAs we can't play bump and run and when we're in OTAs, we can't the techniques that we learn and we want to play with until we get to training camp because of the CBA."

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