TEMPE, Ariz. — It was no secret the Arizona Cardinals were hoping to add an Arizona Wildcat to their roster as an undrafted rookie free agent.
They got one in Jared Baker.
The Cardinals scooped up the running back who, after a mostly quiet first three seasons in Tucson, came on strong as a senior to lead the 2015 Wildcats in rushing yards, with 798, and rushing touchdowns, with nine.
Friday in Tempe, following his first rookie mini-camp practice with the Cardinals, Baker said Arizona was the first team to call him about coming on as a free agent.
“Actually they called me first so I went over, I thought it was a pretty good deal,” he said. “I like Arizona, and yeah, I just said I’m ready to go.”
The 5-foot-8, 192-pound player amassed 1,124 rushing yards on 203 carries for the Wildcats, seeing most his action on special teams. However, as starter Nick Wilson battled injuries throughout the 2015 campaign, head coach Rich Rodriguez was forced to lean on the senior who was known to bring impressive speed to the table.
He was clocked as low as 4.40 seconds in the 40-yard dash before the draft, though according to reports he was clocked at 4.32 seconds by some.
Speed is certainly part of why the Cardinals brought him in, but if he is to stick Baker will have to do more than just run fast.
“Pick up the offense, don’t miss blitzes,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said of what he wants to see from the back. “See his quickness, see his movement.”
Arians praised all three rookie running backs who practiced Friday. Along with Baker, the Cardinals are taking a look at Kendall Roberson (East Texas Baptist) and Elijhaa Penny (Idaho), both of whom are in camp on a tryout basis.
Baker, on the other hand, is under contract, but he understands that doesn’t guarantee him anything.
“Just like everybody else just got to show out, do the best that I can do,” he said. “Put myself in the best position to make the team.”
The 22-year-old said burst — his ability to get to full speed quickly — is his strength, and he said part of the plan is to try to show he can be an effective kick returner.
Really, he is in the same situation as dozens of other players who are wearing red and white this weekend, young players who are trying to catch the coaches’ eyes with hopes of sticking around through the rest of the offseason and then into training camp.
For Baker, who played his college ball 102 miles from the Cardinals’ Tempe training facility, this is an opportunity he cherishes.
“It’s kind of surreal, I guess,” he said. “It’s pretty cool being out here in the same state.”
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