Finally healthy, Elie Bouka believes expectations are higher than before

Jun 3, 2017, 8:40 AM | Updated: 4:28 pm

Cardinals DB Elie Bouka takes a break during an OTA practice May 24. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona S...

Cardinals DB Elie Bouka takes a break during an OTA practice May 24. (Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

(Photo by Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — You may not be familiar with Elie Bouka, and that is OK.

A cornerback who in college played for the University of Calgary, he has enticing physical tools but has been unable to stay on the field.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound player suffered an Achilles injury before his senior season and that, at least in part, led to him not being drafted.

Then, after participating lightly in offseason work, a hamstring injury suffered in training camp sent him to injured reserve.

His rookie year was lost, but the intrigue went nowhere.

“I think the expectations are higher now than it was last year,” Bouka said Thursday following an OTA practice. “I was unable to participate a lot last year so now everybody is more anxious and anxious to see me play.

“I think that is something that I embrace and I feel like it’s a blessing that I’m still here and I’m getting better every day.”

It’s difficult not to wonder what would have been for Bouka had he remained healthy and, now, what he still could be given his size and speed, having reportedly run the 40-yard dash at 4.30 seconds.

On Tuesday, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Bouka had been practicing well enough to move up to Field 1, but “kind of got exposed a bit.”

“He’s been doing really well on Field 2, but we’ll see,” Arians added. “He’s big, strong and fast — just whether or not he can handle it.”

By Thursday, things seemed to be going better.

“He had a great interception yesterday and broke up some balls today,” Arians said Thursday. “So you see his confidence starting to build and he’s got all the athletic ability in the world.”

Arians said with Bouka the most important thing is confidence and, finally healthy, the 24-year-old who intercepted eight passes in 27 college games said his is rising.

But there is still a long way to go and much to learn for the Quebec native who began his college career as a wide receiver and was a third-round pick (24th overall) by the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2016 CFL Draft.

“It’s mostly the knowledge of the game,” he said. “I’m a converted defensive back, only played a year and a half in college, and it was Canadian football — so a lot of different things. I used to say, I didn’t know what a nickel was or what a strong safety was.

“So being able to be here and go to meetings and learn from everybody, all the vets we have in Pat and Ty and Bethea, everybody, learning how to play the game, how to approach things, how to read things, that’s what I’m taking to this year and I think it’s making me a better player now.”

While he was not happy about being hurt last year, if there was a benefit to his time off of the field it was that it allowed Bouka to be better prepared for the opportunity that is in front of him.

He is still fighting for a job, sure, but he’s able to do more than just contribute on special teams.

“I think from a defensive back perspective, I see this year, me sitting back, as an opportunity to get better,” he said. “I feel like I needed that.

“Regardless of me being healthy or not, I needed time to learn. It’s the same thing for everybody.”

Yes, though most players who enter the NFL do so having played its style of football. Bouka said the zones are different in his new league and the ball comes out more quickly than he was used to.

“In the Canadian Football League the field is a little wider; yes, we have running motion, but sometimes the ball takes a little longer to get there so you can get away with a little bit more,” he said. “Now, it’s a bang-bang thing, so you’ve got to be sure that your transition is good.”

It is a lot to learn, though Bouka is not phased by it.

“I think I’ll get there, but I need to read things a little quicker,” he said. “When I start doing that, I’ll make the game a little easier for me.”

And that, Bouka said, is something he could not really work on due to his injury.

“Learning the playbook is learning the playbook, but when you’re not doing it, it’s not the same,” he said. “Once I keep doing it more and more and more, I’ll be more natural.”

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