MATT FAYE/Cronkite Sports
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, left, and General Manager Steve Keim are pleased with Budda Baker, the youngest player on the roster at 21 years old.
Originally published Friday, August 11, 2017 at 06:00a.m.
GLENDALE (AP) – The Arizona Cardinals may have found themselves another Tyrann Mathieu in aggressive, versatile rookie Budda Baker.
Even Mathieu thinks the comparison is appropriate.
"His first day here," Mathieu said, "he was reminiscent of myself for sure."
Mathieu, who burst onto the scene as a do-everything rookie in 2013, is full of praise for Baker, a second-round draft pick out of Washington.
"The thing about it is he has a lot of potential," Mathieu said before the Cardinals practiced Wednesday. "I think in the next year or so, people won't be comparing him to me, people will be comparing people to him."
Baker is learning to play safety and the nickel cornerback position, just as Mathieu does.
"Any time you put on the tape he is flying to the football," Mathieu said. "He's a natural. He has great instincts. I think that is what you need at this level. A lot of times things get overwhelming, guys think too much and they don't make any plays."
Baker has had a late start. Because of the academic schedule at Washington, he couldn't participate in summer workouts. So he's been force fed the defense since his arrival.
"It's a lot being thrown at him but he's doing a good job with it," said safety Antoine Bethea, a 12-year NFL veteran. "Of course being a young player you're going to make some mistakes, but like we always say, if you make mistakes, do it at 100 mph and that's what he does. As we continue along the preseason, he's going to definitely be an integral part of the defense on this team this year."
Baker is full of questions for the veterans.
"Antoine Bethea and Tyvon (Branch), they've been players 10 years-plus," Baker said. "For me it wouldn't be smart if I didn't ask a lot of stuff. As much as they can give me, that's what I want."
Baker was impressive in his debut against Dallas in last week's Hall of Fame Game.
"He continues to play at a high level," Cardinals general manager Steve Keim said Monday on his weekly radio appearance. "I think the little things — the film study, the playbook and all that, is like you anticipated — things that he's going to have to continue to grow and continue to improve upon, but when you just watch the kid's foot speed and explosiveness, his violence as a tackler, he has it all when it comes to the physical traits that you look for.
"When you're out at practice that last couple of days, you see No. 36 (Baker) and No. 32 (Mathieu) all over the field making plays. That is extremely encouraging."
Baker is just 21 years old, the youngest player on the Arizona roster.
But he is "very decisive" on the field, coach Bruce Arians said.
"And when he's decisive, he's fast," Arians said. "He's not afraid to stick it up in there and hit and tackle. Broke up a couple of passes. Just continue to grow. We don't want to put too much on his plate too soon."
So far, Baker is playing with the Arizona second unit, although he has seen some time as the fourth safety in the Cardinals' first-unit "dime" package.
Baker loves it when he's at the line of scrimmage blitzing the quarterback, a trait that is a Mathieu specialty.
"Blitzing is one of my favorite things to do, either attacking the quarterback or the running back on a handoff," Baker said. "I like to blitz. It's one of the funnest things that a defensive back can do. Anytime they dial up the blitz when the ones are in, I'm sure to watch Tyrann just to see the different types of moves he has and all that stuff."
But he is a rookie, and as such already has earned one of those nicknames Arians is known for. This one is "Fishbait."
"He don't like it," Arians said. "Quit biting on the play-action passes and he'll get rid of it quick. I like the aggressiveness."
Remember, when D.J. Humphries was early in his rookie season, he earned the nickname "Knee Deep" for how far a foot had to be in his rear end to get his attention. Two years later, Humphries is the starting left tackle.
Expect Baker to follow an even quicker path.