GLENDALE, Ariz. — The sooner Budda Baker shows he can contribute to Arizona’s defense, the better the Cardinals will be.
If Thursday’s preseason opener is any indication, the second-round pick may not be too far off.
Baker’s performance in the 20-18 loss to the Dallas Cowboys stood out, as he was credited with six total tackles along with one pass defensed and a QB hit. He was not perfect, but the versatile safety impressed the folks over at ProFootballFocus, and the TV combination of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth also had nice things to say.
“If there’s one guy that sort of stood out on the defensive side to me,” Collinsworth said, “it was Budda Baker tonight.”
Baker said he saw a lot of Snapchats from his friends pointing out that he was highlighted on the broadcast.
“They sent me that,” he said. “It was cool.”
On Saturday, following the team’s first practice since the Hall of Fame Game, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians highlighted Baker as someone who “played really fast.”
While not necessarily a surprise — the Cardinals did trade up in the second round to select the Washington product — Baker being able to perform like that after missing all of OTAs and minicamp was certainly welcome.
“Missing all of OTAs, he’s a really bright guy; he’s intense,” Arians said. “He’ll bust something when he’s going full speed, when he does it. I like his coverage ability.
“It’s a shame he missed all OTAs because he’d be way, way ahead of where he is right now. He’d be pressing some guys in that first group.”
Baker understands he would be further along had his school schedule not prohibited him from being with the Cardinals all offseason, and while he thinks about what could have been, he said, with a smile, that it’s all about taking things day-by-day.
Baker said he felt like he played “decent” Thursday, and did not get too amped up or nervous because it was just football.
“I just tried to think of it as football, I was just playing a game,” he added. “It was very exciting wearing the Cardinal red.”
The more Baker plays like this, the more likely people are to wonder what kind of impact he can make this season. Seen as a Tyrann Mathieu-type who can make plays all over the field from a variety of different positions, the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Baker would make the defense that much more dynamic, while also giving them a bit of depth and insurance.
But just because he could be very helpful does not mean the Cardinals will force him onto the field when he’s not ready.
“You can’t push it,” Arians said. “We’ve got veterans back there that we trust that are good players, so you can’t push him into the lineup if he ain’t ready, because that one mental error could cost you a game in the real season.”
Baker understands the thinking, but figures the more reps he gets, either in training camp or preseason games, the shorter his learning curve will be. He was pleased with his tackling Thursday, but regretted not blitzing off the edge on one play in which he felt he could have made a tackle for loss.
But for a first outing with minimal offseason work, the rookie did enough to make you believe he could be an impact player sooner rather than later.
“For me, I’m just trying to take it day-by-day, not trying to think about the future,” he said. “So if I get better day-by-day, once the regular season comes up I feel like I’ll be at my best.”
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