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Cardinals’ Defensive Plan Still Under Wraps

Posted Apr 4, 2018

Players still learning the basics early in offseason

Cardinals safety Budda Baker goes through offseason work on Tuesday.

Three Cardinals defensive starters were shuffled in front of the media on Tuesday, and one after another, they were asked about coach Steve Wilks’ master plan for that side of the ball in 2018.

While the curtain was pulled back ever so slightly by defensive end Chandler Jones, safety Budda Baker and linebacker Hasson Reddick, a definitive picture was not unveiled. Their vague comments about the plan of attack, though, were not subterfuge.

This early in the offseason, the players are in the dark as much as the fans.

“We’re just trying to figure out everything right now,” Baker said. “Honestly, I can tell you I don’t really know yet.”

The Cardinals are only on the second day of their offseason program. While the playbook is now studied electronically through a tablet, Jones held his thumb and forefinger several inches apart to illustrate how thick it would be on paper.

“My biggest thing is learning this playbook and getting these terms down,” Jones said.

Reddick reiterated what Wilks said at the owners meetings, that the plan for the base defense is a 4-3 alignment. The Cardinals ran a 3-4 base under Bruce Arians. Who lines up where is still to be determined. Reddick said he is currently slotted at inside linebacker, which is subject to change.

“Depending on how my learning goes, depending on what they see in me – they might be able to see something in me and be like, ‘OK, we want this guy to rush,’” Reddick said. “They know my past (as an edge-rusher in college and as a rookie after Markus Golden’s injury), so depending on how my learning goes and what I do on the field, that will (decide) what’s going to happen, how many positions I’ll play later on down the line.”

Jones led the NFL in sacks a season ago with 17, dominating at outside linebacker. He was buoyed by the loss of 20 pounds, as slimming down to 260 helped his stamina late in games.

Jones acknowledged he will now be playing defensive end – “I’ll have my hand in the dirt a little bit,” he said -- and is unsure if Wilks prefers him to add weight as he transitions to a position closer to the line of scrimmage.

“I like where I am now,” Jones said. “I’m about 265. But I’ll sit down and talk to Coach about it. If he wants me to put on some weight, I’ll do that. I have no problem with gaining weight. I have no problem with losing weight. I’m comfortable at 265, but if it helps the team, I’ll put some weight on.”

With the departure of safety Tyrann Mathieu, there’s no question Baker will have a significant role on defense in 2018. Wilks is a former defensive backs coach, and figures to deploy the secondary in effective ways.

This is Baker’s first time ever playing for a defensive-minded head coach. He initially met Wilks about this time last year, huddling with the then-Panthers defensive coordinator in a pre-draft visit. Baker is anxious to see Wilks’ vision.

“Right now we’re still developing pieces,” Baker said. “They’re just teaching little things right now. I’m very excited to see what our roles are moving forward.”

The Cardinals have finished in the top-10 in the NFL in yards per play allowed in four of the past five seasons, including each of the last two. Many key pieces are back, but this offseason will be different.

“It’s a whole new coaching staff and a whole new type of defense,” Baker said. “We’re just trying to strictly take it day-by-day, but trying to be the best we can be as a defense. Hopefully, that’s the best in the league.”

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