TEMPE, Ariz. – Antoine Cason heard it from all sides.
His father told him to stay humble and always prepare like he would be the starter. Arizona defensive backs coach Nick Rapone always had the same message for Cason: “Manage the moment.”
Cason has listened to both men and it’s paying off despite unfortunate circumstances. With rookie safety Tyrann Mathieu out for the rest of the season with a knee injury, Cason’s playing time will increase in Arizona’s final three games. He showed last Sunday against the Rams what kind of impact he could have, playing an active role in nickel coverage for the final quarter and a half while slowing down tight end Jared Cook.
“That’s what I take pride in -- every time I’m in the game, make an impact,” Cason said. “That was the point I made to myself.
“It helps, so I definitely know when I was in there it made a difference and it definitely helps the team. If I can continue to help the team win, that’s all I want to do.”
It hasn’t been an easy season for Cason, who started his final three years in San Diego. He joined a loaded Cardinals secondary as a free agent in March without a promise of playing time and he found himself behind Patrick Peterson, Jerraud Powers, Javier Arenas and Mathieu.
It was a new locker room in a new city with a new team. With a new role on top of that, Cason has been adjusting to his new life all season.
“For me, it was unfamiliar territory,” he said. “The biggest difference was not playing. Going in and accepting a different role … just whatever you need me to do. It definitely sucked coming from somewhere where I was playing. [I got through it by] just staying humble and diligent and positive, faithful to what I know could be a possibility, and all year I kept that mindset and here’s my opportunity.”
Cason relied on his father, Wendell, a former defensive back who played 33 games with the Atlanta Falcons, to help center him when the son’s mindset started to wander.
The two talk every day about life, football and everything in between. They focused on the mental aspect of football, which was especially pertinent when Cason dropped on the depth chart. Throughout it all, Wendell’s message was the same: “Continue to stay humble, to continue to work hard, to continue to prepare as if you were a starter.”
“That’s what I did all year,” Cason said. “I continued to watch as if I was going to be playing. Of course, some weeks are harder than others but for the most part [I’m] just doing exactly what I need to do -- use every opportunity that I’m on the field to hone in on something that I would do, say, if I was on defense and get better as a special-teams guy and continue to get better in any way.
“That translates to when you get back on the field you’re still ready to go.”
Cason said he knows this much about his new role: It’ll be where he’s most comfortable, on the outside playing cornerback.
It’s nothing new, he added, but then again, it’s all new.
“When he went in last week, he did a hell of a job in the slot and outside,” Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said. “So it’s just like going back to starting for him. He’s eager to play. He’s been making plays, it’s just a tough group to crack. So he’ll get his chance this week.”