Hearing the way Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton runs his unit, you wouldn't think he is here to pick favorites. He is constantly yelling out at his players, trying to get everyone in position and calling out those who make mistakes. Believe me, I heard it all first hand.
But just because he yells, that doesn't mean he doesn't have a bond with his guys. That is especially the case with his young rookie class. According to Kent Somers, he already has two favorites on the team, while one of his old favorites is slowly dropping out of the race.
Watching the first two preseason games and seeing the rookies work up close, it's pretty obvious why Horton is so intrigued by prospects Justin Bethel and Blake Gideon. Bethel came out of a small school called Presbyterian, so there were many question marks with him when he was drafted. But the reason he was taken was because of his special teams prowess and raw athleticism. Horton has certainly recognized those traits.
"He's done exactly what somebody needs to do to make this team. He's going to do it on special teams. We know he's not ready for primetime as a starting NFL defensive back, but he's done exactly what we wanted the kid to do. He's shown: 'wow, I can play this game athletically. Now I know I need to grow up mentally.' He's been kind of a bright spot for me."
Bethel has been one of my favorite young players to watch as well. He has great speed and size and if he can get the mental part of the game down, he's going to be special. As a safety, he is still a bit raw, but as long as he can produce on special teams, he will be able to develop into a good safety over time.
Ironically, Horton's other favorite rookie is a safety as well. Gideon is an undrafted player from Texas that has already made a few plays during the offseason. He made the interception in Canton during the Hall of Fame game, which was really the point that I started paying attention to him. Horton had been watching him all along.
"He's making a case that he belongs in the NFL. He picked off a pass in Canton. He makes tackles. He sets the defense. He's very smart. He plays on special teams."
Whether Gideon makes the roster or not is unknown, but if he doesn't, I would suspect that another team would pick him up.
Sadly, Jamell Fleming is the player that Horton was referring to as becoming a bit complacent. He has all the talent in the world, but Horton claims that he thinks he can just turn it on when he wants, which isn't true. His role will grow and it sounds like he may start seeing more time as the nickel corner with Mike Adams out. Still, it will be interesting to see how he develops.