Anyone around the Arizona Cardinals knows it’s going to be a challenge for the team to replace a player like Tyrann Mathieu.
Despite his ups and downs, Mathieu’s playmaking and versatility as a defensive back were undeniable. With Mathieu off to play with the Houston Texans, there is no replicating him.
But, if there was a player tasked with being the swiss-army knife of the defense, it’s second-year defensive back Budda Baker.
Baker, who thrived on special teams in his rookie season while filling in as needed on the first-team defense, will have a far bigger role this season.
With the strong reputation first-year head coach Steve Wilks’ defenses have, it feels like a great fit for the playmaking Baker, along with the fact that Wilks has been an admirer since before the draft.
“I worked Budda out, coming out of college, and I was fascinated by him that day,” Wilks said Sunday. “Even going back and evaluating him on film. The guy is extremely physical.”
After Baker spent time solely as a strong safety last year, he will now mostly find himself a nickel role, with Tre Boston taking over free safety duties and Antoine Bethea at strong safety.
Baker, though, will move around a whole lot.
“Coaches have gave me a lot of things to do,” Baker said Saturday. “I’m excited for what I can do. I’m gonna be doing, really, everything.”
Baker will spend time playing as the nickel, but in Wilks’ system, that means he will be in more of a linebacker role on some occasions. He will also spend his time moving around the secondary based on certain coverages.
The good news is that’s familiar ground for Baker. A versatile role is what he specialized in for Washington in his junior year with the Huskies.
In that specific spot, the most important thing is it sets up Baker to do what he does best: making plays.
“In our system, at that position, you gotta do a great job of blitzing,” Wilks said. “Physicality is there. He can cover. He has good skills on the backend, as far as ball skills, very interchangeable and we are going to be able to move him around as well.”
At 5-foot-10, Baker is small to be tasked with picking up some plays as a linebacker, but that’s never been a concern for him.
“I’ve been doing it my whole life,” he said. “Little league, high school and college, so I don’t really care.”
The undersized bit, and being the interchangeable player on the defense, is where the Mathieu comparisons lie.
From Baker’s perspective, he’s only worried about being his own player.
“Ty was a great player, but then again, I always tell people, ‘Tyrann is Tyrann and Budda is Budda,’” Baker told the team website in early June. “At the end of the day, I’m going to be trying to make plays.”