Cardinals’ Patrick Peterson aims for star status

TEMPE, Ariz. – Patrick Peterson burst on the NFL scene by tying an NFL rookie record with four punt returns for touchdowns.

In his second season, he established himself as one of the league’s premier cornerbacks, earning his second straight Pro Bowl appearance and allowing just 51.6 percent of the passes thrown into his coverage to be completed.

In the offseason, his maturity and willingness to mentor played a big role in the Cardinals taking a flier on Tyrann Mathieu in the third round of the NFL Draft.

So what’s next for the Cardinals’ budding star?

“It’s definitely all about putting everything together,” Peterson said with a smile that somehow achieves both modesty and confidence. “Putting everything in one pot and the recipe is going to be some gumbo.”

In on-field terms, that means achieving Pro Bowl status as a returner and a corner in the same season – something he could not do last season as a return man because teams either kicked away from him or pinned him along the sidelines with faster gunners, preventing him from using his open-field elusiveness.

But there is more on Peterson’s plate. With a combination of good looks, confidence, ridiculous ball skills and that calming, Jordan-esque voice, Peterson is ticketed for rarified air in Arizona. In his third season, it is probably safe to say Peterson is on his way to becoming a Valley icon.

“He’s got an aura about him,” coach Bruce Arians said. “The great ones always do.”

Peterson is used to such stature. He couldn’t walk five feet in Baton Rouge without someone recognizing him in his days at LSU. But there was a short window where he could wander the Valley with his wife and former girlfriend, Antonique, (they were married last June) in relative anonymity.

“That’s gone now,” Antonique said. “When we go places now, he doesn’t even realize it, but everyone recognizes him, everyone is looking at him.”

Peterson joked that he has to send the housekeeper to buy groceries at Fry’s, but the truth is, he enjoys the adulation.

“It’s big for me because I know I have a fan base,” said Peterson, who has two more years left on his original rookie contract. “I just want to continue doing the best job I can do on this field and for the community, not only to get back into the winning ways but to be a helpful citizen as well.”

In that regard, Peterson has the perfect mentor in receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

“Fitz has definitely carried me on the way,” Peterson said. “He’s the been the face of the franchise for many years. He’s a true professional. He carries himself in a very respectful way. He respects each and every one out here, even the lowest man on the payroll.”

Fitzgerald’s teachings are one thing, but some players just seem to have an innate ability to relate to others. And what has consistently helped Peterson through his life of fame has been what appears to be a genuine sense of humility and a respect for others that makes him approachable and affable.

“He’s always been like that,” Antonique said. “People always talk about that quality when they talk about him.”

You might imagine Peterson’s star-power helped sweep Antonique off her feet in 2009 when the two first met at LSU. You’d be wrong.

“I started it! I made the first move,” Antonique said, laughing. “We had seen each other before around campus, but during fall break we were both at a club near LSU and I was bold enough to have a friend go say ‘hi.’ ”

It wasn’t the last time Peterson deferred to Antonique. Before every game, she gives him a pep talk, and after every game, she delivers her critique.

“If I think he did poorly I’m like, ‘I don’t care what you say. I want to get this off my chest,’ ” Antonique said. “I’ll be like ‘I don’t want anybody touching the ball when you’re defending them,’ and he’s like ‘they’re going to catch it sometimes. This is the NFL!’ ”

“Sometimes I just want to ball up after talking to her,” Peterson said while pretending to curl into the fetal position. “She’s my toughest critic, and it’s not even close.”

Peterson understands the Cardinals have a new coaching staff and about half the roster is gone from last season. But there is no sense that he needs to prove himself all over again. He knows he’s already arrived, and he understands what that means — on the field and off it.

“Like coach always says, ‘you represent the name on your back’ so I want to make sure I’m representing the Peterson family in the right way,” he said.

Time will tell how much more Peterson’s star rises in the Valley. But the early returns for Arians have exceeded expectations.

“I knew his ball skills were good. I didn’t know they were that good,” Arians said, harkening back to a play Peterson made on the opening day of OTAs. “That first interception, the first day, when he tipped it to himself and made a one-handed catch … I knew he was special but until you get around an athlete you don’t know how special he is. 

“This guy’s as good as there is in the league.”