TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Arizona safety Kerry Rhodes says teammate Patrick Peterson will never catch up with his confidence.
But, as Rhodes says, "it works for him."
In his second NFL season, Peterson does not hesitate when asked if he's already the best cornerback in the game.
"I believe so," he said after practice on Wednesday. "I believe I'm playing at a top level right now. Week in and week out, I'm given the opposing team's No. 1 receiver and I believe I'm handling that pretty well so far."
It's an attitude instilled in him while growing up in the football-crazy state of Florida, an attitude essential at a position where the odds and the rules are stacked against you.
"I believe all the good corners have something in common, that's confidence in their ability to go out there and make plays for their team and themselves as well," he said. "I believe the confidence started when I was back in high school. My dad, just something he always instilled in me as I was growing up — just always be confident in your ability and be confident in what you're doing at all times."
Peterson has seven of Arizona's NFL-leading 22 interceptions this season, one in each of the last four games. His pick of Matthew Stafford's pass and 29-yard return to the Detroit 3-yard line set up the go-ahead touchdown in a 38-10 victory last Sunday that ended the Cardinals' nine-game losing streak. That pick came when Stafford overthrew Calvin Johnson.
Some of Peterson's interceptions have been far more spectacular.
The former LSU star has a knack for appearing to be beat on a play, only to somehow catch the receiver when the pass arrives and take the football away.
"It's just a God-given talent," Peterson said, "having the ability to have that makeup speed, to catch up with guys who maybe break away from me and having the knowledge on where the quarterback is looking to throw the ball. When the guy does beat me across the crease, I want to beat him to his landmark."
Peterson found out in a hurry as a rookie that God-given talent was enough to excel in an NFL secondary. Both he and coach Ken Whisenhunt said the difference between Peterson's play this year and last is technique.
"He's always been very gifted as far as seeing the ball and making plays on the ball," Whisenhunt said, "but he's a guy that's worked very hard on his technique and that's one of the things I think is paying off for him."
Peterson studied the video of last season and knew what to work on.
"Coming into this year I wanted to get better at the line of scrimmage," he said. "Last year I wasn't patient. I was always opening up the gate, giving receivers the easy advantage to pretty much go wherever they want. Now this year I basically get my hands on them at the line of scrimmage, stand square, being patient, understanding what teams want to do in basic situations."
Whisenhunt said Peterson is that rare athlete with an abundance of natural talent combined with the drive to do what is necessary to be among the best players in the NFL.
"He's one of those types of guys that have tremendous talent and that's very driven to be great," Whisenhunt said, "and there's not a whole bunch of those, but I'm glad we've got him."
The Cardinals selected Peterson with the No. 5 overall pick in the 2011 draft. While he had plenty to learn about playing cornerback at this level, he wasted no time in making an impact as a punt returner. He became the first player, let alone first rookie, to have four punt returns of 80 or more yards for touchdowns. That included a 99-yarder to beat St. Louis in overtime.
But there have been no such plays this season with teams focused on pinning him to the sidelines on returns or making other adjustments to neutralize him.
"It doesn't bother me in a sense because, at the end of the day, the Arizona Cardinals drafted me to be a defensive back," he said. "The punt return is just a plus. It's something that I'm good at as well. When the opportunity comes, I'll definitely do my best to break one."
Arizona also has worked him into the offense on occasion, usually in the wildcat. With the worst offense in the NFL, the Cardinals could be expected to try that a time or two when they are home against Chicago. Peterson has often said he relishes any chance to touch the ball.
"We'll see if it gets called this week," he said, flashing the big smile that has already helped make him one of the most popular players on the team. "You guys will find out on Sunday."
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