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Mirror Image: Budda Baker Joins Tyrann Mathieu

Posted May 11, 2017

Cardinals hope Washington rookie can add same dynamic play as the Honey Badger

Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim sees many similarities between safety Tyrann Mathieu (left) and second-round pick Budda Baker.

The film will set you free, Budda Baker is fond of saying.

Free of the “boxes” people are quick to put players within, like the box that a small safety who may be around 5-foot-9, too small to make enough of an NFL difference. When Baker’s video is on, despite his 5-10-ish frame, he isn’t too small. For the Cardinals, it was so familiar.

“When I first threw on the tape and watched him, gave me some of the same feel that I had when I watched Ty,” Cardinals General Manager Steve Keim said.

Both wearing No. 32. Both roaming the secondary in different spots, making dynamic plays. Mirror images, Keim thought.

The film will indeed set you free – to think the Cardinals knew exactly what they were bringing in when they traded up to take Baker, the Washington product, early in the second round of the draft. In many ways, it was another Tyrann Mathieu.

“When I put on his tape and watched his highlights, you know, most people’s highlight tape is just their best plays,” Mathieu said. “But for him, he made some exciting plays.”

The two are now teammates, but they do not know each other, nor have they spoken. Mathieu said secondary coaches Nick Rapone and Kevin Ross both had mentioned Baker was looking forward to connecting – “I’ll probably get his number by the end of the week,” Mathieu said – while Baker doesn’t want to come across as forward.

“I’m trying to stay out of (the veterans’) hair,” Baker said. “I’m just a rookie. I don’t want to ask them too many questions yet.”

Baker knows what it’s like to deal with NFL stars. While at Washington, he struck up a friendship with Seahawks safety Earl Thomas – who already texted Baker to tell him Thomas was looking forward to meeting Baker twice a season.

“I’ve never been a star-struck type of person,” Baker said, although he acknowledged it was “surreal” he was now here, a teammate of players like Mathieu and Patrick Peterson.

Baker praised Mathieu’s ballhawking ability, hoping to improve on his own. Baker did drop, by his own admission, too many easy interceptions last season. But it is Baker’s nose for the ball, like Mathieu’s, that drew Keim and the Cardinals to him. Baker can play all over the secondary, like Mathieu.

As Mathieu said, the two together “will be a challenge for offensive coordinators every week.”

Baker even has a memorable nickname like Mathieu’s “Honey Badger,” although Baker is Budda all the time. Rare is the person who even knows his given name is Bishard. The nickname came from Baker’s mother and aunt when he was a baby, both because he was pudgy and because his eyes reflect some Japanese heritage.

“People in high school thought I had a twin brother named Bishard because a lot of people knew me as Budda,” Baker said.

Logistics will prevent any instant chemistry in the secondary with Baker. Washington’s spring session doesn’t graduate until June 9, which means after this weekend’s rookie minicamp, Baker can’t return until June 10.

“He’s a rookie, he’s going to have his ups and downs with the playbook,” Mathieu said. “But we’re not asking him to be our signal-caller. All we want him to do is come in and play football and have fun.

“I’m pretty sure he’s a smart guy.”

Smart enough to know he and Mathieu could be an impressive combination.

“I feel a lot of magic can happen,” Baker said. “I just want to win games.”

BRYANT CUT

As all the rookies arrived, the Cardinals not only released linebacker Daryl Washington but also safety Christian Bryant. Bryant was on the Cardinals’ practice squad most of last season, although he appeared in three games.

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