Cardinals ‘silent assassin’ Jalen Thompson exceeding expectations

Dec 4, 2021, 7:35 AM
Arizona Cardinals free safety Jalen Thompson (34) celebrates his interception against the Carolina ...

Arizona Cardinals free safety Jalen Thompson (34) celebrates his interception against the Carolina Panthers with Cardinals defensive back Chris Banjo (31) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 14, 2021, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

TEMPE — There has been more than a handful of standouts over the course of the season for the Arizona Cardinals. That’ll happen when you sport a 9-2 record.

Defensively, it’s not hard to see why safety Jalen Thompson is near the top of that list. Along with Budda Baker, the safety tandem is arguably one of, if not the best in the league.

Since arriving through the 2019 supplemental draft, Thompson has proven to be a huge boost for a defense that has evolved into one of the best units in the NFL.

“We knew he was gonna be a good player but this year he’s definitely grown up,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Thursday. “His body’s different, he is definitely one of our best communicators out there and boy he can tackle. … He makes calling defenses easy. He’s one guy in my opinion that has taken a huge step for us.

“Last year, we didn’t have him for two or three games and it was different … To have him every week has definitely helped our defense play faster and keep the big plays to a minimum. That’s his specialty.”

Of the areas Thompson has improved on, the two biggest are his football IQ and his overall communication skills, especially in meetings, something Joseph said is “special to watch” coming from a third-year guy.

It’s helped translate to 75 tackles (second on the team), an interception, four passes defensed and a QB hit. He’s also got a knack for making big time tackles in the open field.

Baker may be the bigger name at the position, but that doesn’t mean Thompson has sat by the wayside. And just because he may not be talkative or boisterous, that doesn’t mean he isn’t engrained with the task at hand: getting better with each day.

“He is a silent assassin,” Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday. “He doesn’t say much, but he’s always kind of thirsting for knowledge since he got here. Coach ‘Rob’ (DBs coach Marcus Robertson) has done a great job with him, and they have a great relationship. He’s always asking questions, ‘How can I get better? What can I do?’

“Everything is full speed. If we do a walk-through, he’s the one guy, him and Budda (Baker) back there, it looks like full speed still. They have one speed, and they practice that way, and they work that way. He’s been tremendous since he’s been here.”

And for as much praise as the safety is receiving through 12 weeks of the season, the safety is far from done improving his craft. He’ll be the first one to tell you, adding that he is his hardest critic when he misses a tackle or assignment.

“[I’ve come] real far, still got a lot of work to do,” Thompson said. “Gotta clean up a lot of areas but for the most part feeling confident and feeling like this is by far my cleanest year.

“The standard is high here,” the safety added. “So I try to go at that standard and try to meet it every single day.”

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