Special teams master Justin Bethel delivers yet again for Cardinals
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Justin Bethel has made a career out of being the best special teams player out on the football field. Whether it be in high school, college or now with the Arizona Cardinals, Bethel and the football somehow seem to gravitate toward each other a lot.
That was no more evident than on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Kicker Dan Bailey was lining up for a 35-yard field goal right before halftime, which would’ve tightened the Cardinals lead to 14-13. As the snap came out and the hold was placed, all you saw in the stadium and on television was a red jersey dart across the screen and the ball get popped in the air. The man wearing that jersey was guess who? Bethel.
That was a critical block, because had Bailey nailed that kick, Dallas would’ve had the momentum heading into the second half, plus they received the second half kick, so there’s no telling what the momentum from a successful field goal would’ve done for the Cowboys.
Bethel made sure none of that was going down, not on his watch.
“[At] the beginning of the play, I’m looking at the snapper, trying to get his snap count [because] it’s all about that and getting a good start,” Bethel said.
It’s such a bang-bang play that Bethel runs through, that he’s not sure whether he sees the ball or if his eyes are closed once the ball is snapped.
“When I get back there, I see the ball when I get off the edge and I think my eyes [are] closed, I’m not really sure,” Bethel said. “I see the ball, I block the ball [and] I don’t know if my eyes are open. I’m just kind of used to doing it because I’ve done it for so long.”
Like Bethel said, he’s not new to blocking kicks. Back at Blythewood High School in his hometown of Sumter, S.C., Bethel was denying kickers. At Presbyterian College is where Bethel truly made a name for himself. He set a Big South record by blocking nine kicks. If you ask Bethel, it’s actually 13.
“I got my hands on a lot of them,” Bethel said. “I know there’s one where I blocked it and he somehow made it. It’s things like that [where] I consider I blocked it, but they still just happened to make a play out of it.”
Bethel has shined ever since he came into the league in 2012. In Week 16 of his rookie season against the Chicago Bears, Bethel recovered Olindo Mare’s blocked field goal attempt and took it 82-yards the other way for a touchdown.
In his sophomore season, Bethel had 18 special-teams tackles, while blocking two field goals and forcing two more field goal misses. For his efforts in 2013, Bethel was named to the Pro Bowl.
Since joining the Cardinals, Bethel has blocked three field goal attempts. He also blocked three kicks [field goal, PAT, punt] during the 2012 preseason.
Bethel has seen the level of attention swing a lot more in his direction as a result of what he’s done over the last two and a half seasons.
“I’ve gotten a lot more single [coverage] than I’ve gotten last year [and] I’m not mad at it at all,” Bethel said. “They’ll still try and do things here and there to double team me or vice me down the field.”
“I go into the game expecting vice, but I think after last year, me beating so many vices, they kind of figured that’s not going to work, so they gotta try and figure something out,” Bethel said.
Bethel was a YouTube sensation after the video was posted with him jumping almost six feet in the air onto some boxes. His vertical leap at the NFL Combine was 39 ½ inches. That was the highest leap of any defensive player in the Combine that year.
Could Bethel repeat the six-foot leap on demand?
“If I trained a little bit for it and it was the offseason, probably,” Bethel said. “During the season, you’re a little bit beat up so it’s a little harder, but I probably could do it again, yeah.”
Bethel has seen much worse days with the Cardinals than what he’s seeing right now. Who can forget the disastrous 2012 season – Bethel’s rookie campaign – which saw Arizona race out to a 4-0 record, only to lose 11 of their final 12 games.
Those were rough times for Bethel and the Cardinals, hopefully never to be repeated again. Through the first half of this season, it’s peaches and cream thus far. Arizona has the best record in the NFL at 7-1, they’re on top of the NFC West and they have the best record in the NFC to boot.
Bethel can see a definite difference in the Cardinals organization now, as opposed to his rookie season.
“I feel like the group as a whole, we’re really cohesive, we’re really trusting each other [and] we believe in each other, especially [the] defense. When we go out there, there’s a great confidence when they get out there,” Bethel said. “Even though we got down 10-0 at the beginning [in Dallas], nobody was panicking. If you looked at our sideline, we’re still talking to each other, laughing and having fun and knowing we can come back and make something happen.”
When asked to give one word to describe his head coach, Bruce Arians, it took Bethel a while to come up with one. It took seven seconds to be exact for Bethel to come up with the word ‘confident,’ to describe him.
“He’s definitely a confident guy, he knows what he knows and he believes in what he’s teaching everybody,” Bethel said of Arians. “The way he feels about something, he’s definitely going to tell you and he has no problems saying it.”
The belief Bethel said that Arians has in himself and what he’s doing with his team has definitely radiated throughout the roster.
“The belief in one another to go out and do our job, and we all respect each other for what we do and we know the guy beside us is gonna do his job,” Bethel said.
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