New Cardinals defensive coordinator aims to reduce big plays

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TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Four years removed from the University of New Hampshire, James Bettcher faced the media for the first time as Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator, pledging wholehearted support for the scheme instituted by his popular and successful predecessor Todd Bowles.

The 36-year-old coach, introduced at a news conference Tuesday, said an emphasis will be on reducing the "explosive big plays" the Cardinals gave up last season.

Bettcher's rapid rise through the NFL coaching ranks came in three years under coach Bruce Arians - one in Indianapolis and the last two in Arizona, where Bettcher coached outside linebackers.

"I know he can coach," Arians said. "There are guys that have jobs for 40 years that shouldn't have had them, so age has got nothing to do with it. It's the experience and, like I said, the command of the room is what has always sold me on him."

Bettcher worked from the coaches' booth above the field as an assistant. He said he hasn't decided whether he will move to the sideline as coordinator, a job he got when Bowles left to become head coach of the New York Jets.

"I think I'm a guy that has fire in his belly, energy, excitement," Bettcher said. "`When we come to work in April, I want them to come in with energy."

Bettcher started his coaching career at the University of St. Francis, his alma mater and an NAIA school in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He had stops at Bowling Green, North Carolina and Ball State before, in 2011, going to New Hampshire as linebackers coach and special teams coordinator. The next year, Chuck Pagano hired him as special assistant to the head coach.

When Pagano took a leave of absence to fight leukemia, Arians became the interim head coach of the Colts.

"I'm just fortunate to be around the right people," Bettcher said. "If there's anything I've done right it's just shut up and listen and learn from people and understand when you take notes and understand when you give input."

Arians said he got a text from linebacker Robert Mathis complaining about the coach taking Bettcher to Arizona.

"He said, `He made me a better player, first time in four years.' You're talking about a perennial Pro Bowler," Arians said. "That's what a young coach and he had in common, is getting better, and that's the same thing he's done here with our guys."

Arians wanted to hire a coordinator from within to maintain continuity. Bringing in someone new would require the players to learn a new system all over again.

Bettcher said he would lean on his assistant coaches, including 61-year-old Bob Sanders, who was hired as linebackers coach. Sanders was Green Bay defensive coordinator from 2006 to 2008.

Bettcher said he has a direct style with his players, some of whom are nearly as old as he is.

"I think the thing that is the most important is being honest with guys; not just telling them what they want to hear," he said, "telling them what they need to work on. Give them a plan that they can become better players and they can achieve the goals that they have for themselves."

Arians said Bettcher's first job is to help develop a defensive roster.

"We have to rebuild our roster on defense and make it better, make it faster," Arians said.

Bettcher said that when Bowles first met with his players two years ago he told them, "`You played great defense here before I came here.'"

"So there was already a standard set," Bettcher said. "He said it isn't about continuing to uphold the standard, it's about raising the bar. We're going to approach this the same way. We're going to find ways to raise the bar, to play better defense and to get the job done."