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Cardinals rookie Budda Baker hopes Tyrann Mathieu will help hone his ball skills

TEMPE, Ariz. — The critique was a footnote in Cardinals general manager Steve Keim’s otherwise glowing review of second-round draft pick Budda Baker, an aside tossed in because Baker wore the same number as Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu.

“When you see the 32 jersey, you can’t help but think about Ty,” Keim said after Day 2 of the NFL Draft on April 28. “[But] he doesn’t quite have the ball skills Ty has.”

Baker has heard that assessment before. He didn’t record an interception at the University of Washington until the bowl game of his freshman year when the Huskies lost to Oklahoma State, 30-22, in the Cactus Bowl at Sun Devil Stadium.

Throughout the regular season, his position coach, Jimmy Lake, would text him, giving him a hard time about that deficiency.

“Every week he would say ‘you don’t have an interception yet, you don’t have an interception yet,’ Baker said, laughing.

Baker didn’t feel slighted by the reminder or Keim’s remarks. The Cardinals wanted Baker so badly they moved up in the draft to select him. Instead, Baker took the comment as a challenge to shore up an area of his game in the NFL.

“I think I can improve that,” he said. “For me on film, I feel like I’ve dropped all the easy picks. All the hard ones I intercept, but then the easy ones I just maybe think too much. For me, it’s just staying on the JUGS machine, catching a lot of balls.”

Baker recorded five interceptions and 18 passes defended at Washington, and he forced three fumbles. He believes the ball skills are there. They just need honing, and now he has Mathieu as a mentor.

“Ever since LSU days, his ball skills have been off the charts, exceptional,” Baker said. “I’m trying to get those type of ball skills.”

Baker will have to put those lessons on hold for the time being. The University of Washington’s spring quarter doesn’t end until June 2, with final exams scheduled from June 3-9 and graduation on June 9. The Cardinals’ final minicamp day is June 8, so Baker will miss all of that organized offseason work, arriving in Arizona on June 10.

“Of course it bothers you just because you want to be with the team,” said Baker, who has not talked to Mathieu yet. “Then again, I’m still going to be working hard.

“Stay in my workout plan, stay in my meal plan, and learning the playbooks, texting [defensive backs] coach [Nick] Rapone or [cornerbacks] coach [Kevin] Ross, trying to get the plays down.”

The Cardinals staff has little concern about the time Baker will miss.

“He is such a student of the game,” coach Bruce Arians said after the draft. “I don’t have any worries about him being ready. We’re working right now through all the rules of what we can and cannot do as far as getting him taught and ready, but he is a dynamic guy.”

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