Cardinals safety Budda Baker works out with the rookies on Wednesday morning.
Budda Baker made the most of an unwanted situation over the past month.
The second-round pick was not allowed to be with the Cardinals during the majority of offseason work because of the University of Washington's academic schedule, so he did what he could to mimic the team's daily process.
The safety studied the playbook hard, talked almost daily with defensive backs coach Nick Rapone and followed his workout plan religiously.
"I wanted to do everything they were doing besides being able to practice," Baker said.
Baker's absence came to end this week, as he returned to the team for the final portion of the rookie development program. It wasn't the best timing, though, as the team's veterans left for the summer right before he arrived.
"It was very tough (to be away)," Baker said. "I'm a rookie and I want to learn from the veterans and get more reps. But I still feel like I have a good grasp on all the plays."
Since he was a three-year starter at Washington and an early pick, Baker could be among a handful of rookies competing for early playing time. He showed his ability at rookie camp, intercepting a pass on the first day, before the forced hiatus.
While Baker has skills, it's a tough transition, and coach Bruce Arians is wary of putting too much on a rookie's plate until later in the season. Last year's draft class made minimal impact, and Arians said Baker has "a ton" of catching up to do, although he believes the extra time at the facility will help him.
Baker is optimistic, because while the verbiage from college has changed from his college days, he said the Cardinals defense looks familiar.
"A lot of the concepts are the same," Baker said. "Playing free safety in nickel at the University of Washington and strong safety in nickel here, it's practically the same thing. The type of technique, coverages, all that type of stuff, is very similar to my defense in college."
While the end goal is centered on performance, Baker is also looking to make up for lost time getting to know his fellow rookies.
Players in the same draft class tend to remain close-knit as their careers move forward, and Baker was already chatting amiably with third-round pick Chad Williams and sixth-rounder Rudy Ford on Tuesday.
"I had rookie minicamp, but that was like four days, so we didn't really get to know each other," Baker said. "Getting to know these guys, getting to know the weight and conditioning staff, I feel like that's still valuable for me."
While some Cardinals veterans may try to steal a week or two of relaxation before training camp, this is crunch time for a guy like Baker. The team has three veteran safeties ahead of him on the depth chart in Tyrann Mathieu, Tyvon Branch and Antoine Bethea, and it won't be easy to crack the rotation.
Now that Baker's back in town, he's eager to make up for the lost experience.
"For me, it's to take it day by day," he said. "Listen to the weight and conditioning staff. Do my lifts, do my conditioning, stay in the playbook. And then once I get on the field – I'll make a couple mistakes in the beginning, but hopefully I can get better each day."
The Cardinals posing for their 'Sunday Night Football" photos