Cardinals safety Budda Baker smiles after picking off a pass at rookie minicamp on Friday.
Budda Baker felt overwhelmed at times on Friday afternoon during the first day of rookie minicamp.
He was learning a new playbook, and more than once, defensive backs coach Nick Rapone called over the Cardinals' second-round pick to explain another nuance of the scheme.
But on the plays where the mental acuity caught up to his physical abilities, Baker shined.
Early in 11-on-11 work, Baker blitzed into the backfield so quickly from the slot that he beat the quarterback to his drop. Near the end of the session, he darted to his left in coverage and picked off a pass.
"We didn't have any turnovers, so I was trying to get one," Baker said.
It's a long process for rookies to make an impact for the Cardinals – coach Bruce Arians doesn't like counting on them until Thanksgiving – but that journey began Friday and will continue with two more days of rookie practices over the weekend.
While there are 57 different players participating – a mixture of draft picks, rookie undrafted signees, tryout guys and second-year players – Baker and first-round pick Haason Reddick are the main attractions.
Both are trying to pick up the defense quickly enough to make an impact this fall. Reddick lined up exclusively at inside linebacker on Friday as he transitions from defensive end. During drills, inside linebackers coach Larry Foote and defensive coordinator James Bettcher were often near him, dispensing advice.
"The pace at which we have to learn, that's the only thing (that was a surprise)," Reddick said. "It's immediate. 'Come on. You've got to get it.' When you're being paid to play a sport, it's expected. This is your job, so you've got to take it seriously."
Arians was glad the three-day camp arrived. The veterans are also back, and the Cardinals can now transition from a team on paper to one in the flesh.
"It's one of the most exciting days of the year for me, because this is the beginning of the building," Arians said.
CATCHING ARIANS' EYE
While there were plenty of miscues during the always-frenetic first day, a few players stood out besides Baker.
Colorado State-Pueblo wide receiver Larry Clark, a tryout guy, was the first name specified, and while Arians hadn't yet become familiar with Clark's last name by the end of the first practice, "I learned his first name already, and that's a really good thing."
Rutgers wide receiver Carlton Agudosi and Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton, both of whom were undrafted signees, were two others who played well, Arians said. Shelton would have been in consideration for one of the Cardinals' seventh-round picks if they didn't trade up for Rudy Ford.
"We had him up there pretty high," Arians said. "That's why we went after him right after the draft. We really liked him."
Arians said the team will decide by Sunday if any of the tryout guys will make the roster.
A SHOWING FOR DOWN THE ROAD
Former Air Force linebacker Ryan Watson is attending rookie minicamp on a tryout basis even though he must serve two years of active duty before playing professional football. The players on Air Force were told of the new rule prior to the draft, and while Watson said he was initially a little upset, he's trying to make the most of it.
While Watson can't join the team after this weekend even if it wanted to sign him, he can give them a glimpse of his potential.
"Show them what I can do," Watson said. "Put some stuff on tape, impress, so when two years are up, they're looking to call and bring me back."
Arians, who believes the rule forbidding players to forgo active duty for an NFL career is "dumb," was happy to give Watson the opportunity.
"He's earned it," Arians said. "I love working with the service guys and giving them that chance. You never know. They'll impress you enough that you'll think about them two years from now."
Wide receivers Marvin Hall and Harvey Binford were recently released by the Cardinals, but were invited back for the three-day rookie camp. They will aim to get re-signed with a good showing.
Utah State cornerback Daniel Gray is also in on a tryout basis. He is the cousin of Cardinals quarterbacks coach Byron Leftwich.
The Cardinals hold their first rookie minicamp practice in 2017