‘I can feel it’: Budda Baker believes in improvement of Cardinals defense
It’s March, and that means Budda Baker is just kicking his offseason workout routine into gear. The Pro Bowl safety’s career ascent has been a result of the individual work in times like these, but the Arizona Cardinals’ coaching staff turnover during his three-year career hasn’t made it easy.
Baker improved as a rookie safety under head coach Bruce Arians in 2017. He slid to the slot under head coach Steve Wilks and recorded 102 tackles in 2018 before moving back to safety last season for coach Kliff Kingsbury and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
A Pro Bowl berth as a safety, not a special teamer, validated his progression. Looking ahead, continuity of playing in the same system for consecutive seasons matters, Baker told Arizona Sports’ Doug & Wolf on Thursday.
“Having the same coaching staff, having the same faces and all that type of stuff is definitely going to help,” Baker said. “As grown men, having a new guy come in every time, you got to learn him and you have to do all that … I feel like having these guys (return), we know who they are, we know how they coach, we know how they play the defense and the game.”
“This same coaching staff is definitely going to help me elevate my game personally as a player. I’m playing my real position that I love to play.”
The secondary can’t do much other than improve. Tight ends gave the Cardinals nightmares all season long, but the coverage in general was one of the worst in the NFL after Arizona was forced to turn to young players.
Arizona Cardinals pass defense last season, by position
Tight ends: 127 targets/96 catches/1,148 yards/16 TDs
RBs: 110 targets/93 catches/788 yards/5 TDs
WRs: 332 targets/224 catches/2,764 yards/16 TDs
pretty much gashed by every position group last year
— Eric Edholm (@Eric_Edholm) March 3, 2020
Cornerback Patrick Peterson’s six-game PED suspension was the first blow. Cornerback Robert Alford’s injury just before the regular season started came as a poorly-timed hit, and safety D.J. Swearinger’s less-than-stellar play and eventual release threw everything out of whack.
As rookie Byron Murphy jumped between cornerback and slot and Arizona waived veteran corner Tramaine Brock, Baker ended up being the only consistent player in the defensive backfield.
Peterson, who enters a contract year, hit his stride late in 2019. Alford being healthy would give them two experienced players at cornerback.
Rookie safety Jalen Thompson, who was a supplemental draft selection, began improving late in the season once he caught up.
“We are right there,” Peterson said after the season finale. “As a secondary, we feel like we are going to be one of the better groups coming in to next year having so many young players having an opportunity to learn.
“That’s what it’s all about: finding your niche, finding your regiment that works for you and now you are going out there and playing fast for your brothers and the rest will be history.”
Depth issues remain for that position group, and much will play out in free agency and the draft.
Meanwhile, the defensive line has too many questions around nose tackle Corey Peters, and linebackers Chandler Jones and Jordan Hicks require sidekicks. Baker, though, feels optimistic.
The star talent and foundation set by Joseph and his coaching staff is there.
“Defense-wise, I can feel it,” Baker said. “I can feel the excitement. I can feel everybody coming together, guys even talking to each other outside of the season and all that type of stuff. I’m very excited what we can do. I’m not going to put any measurements on anything but just know we’re excited for this season.”