Zeke Turner must walk before he can run.
The undrafted rookie has traits that bring an inevitable comparison to new teammate Deone Bucannon. Both played safety in college – Turner at Washington, Bucannon at Washington State – and have nearly-identical frames.
Bucannon, 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, morphed into a hybrid linebacker at the NFL level and has carved out a niche as one of the most versatile defenders in the NFC. Turner, 6-2 and 214, is beginning his career with the Cardinals at safety, but has the mentality that could allow him to one day follow in Bucannon's footsteps.
"When I see a lineman coming, I feel like I really want to get into it with him, because I feel like I'm capable of handling myself," Turner said. "Most guys shy away from it."
There is a major difference between the two players, however: Bucannon was a first-round pick, guaranteed to get his shot on the field. Turner was bypassed in the draft and must focus on simply making the team in training camp.
So while hybrid linebacker may be a long-term idea, Turner presently has his nose stuffed in the safety playbook, which is difficult enough.
"It's all mental at this level," Turner said. "Everyone's big, strong and fast. When you get on the field you have to know your stuff."
Turner played a year of junior college ball and was a backup with Washington for two seasons before finally seeing regular playing time as a senior. He finished 2017 with 55 tackles and an interception to earn an NFL shot.
The Cardinals have a pair of established starters at safety in Budda Baker and Antoine Bethea, but the competition behind them is wide open. The young players jockeying for position on the depth chart bring different skills, with Turner's physicality his major strength.
Turner and Baker played together in college – a relationship that helped cinch Turner's decision to sign with the Cardinals – and Baker likes the type of player the team is getting.
"Zeke is a banger," Baker said. "He hits anything, plays smart. He's just excited to be on the field. Whatever the coaches want him to do, he's going to do it, and he's going to do it at a high level. I'm excited for him and I'm excited that we signed him."
While Turner has upside on defense, it's his special teams prowess that could be more valuable initially. That phase of the game was taken seriously by the coaches at Washington, and it was no small achievement for Turner to earn the program's Special Teams Player of the Year award as a junior.
"You would see in college, some guys would come out there and not really want to be on special teams," Turner said. "But at Washington, they would put out the best guy. It didn't matter if you started. They'd put Budda out there ... It definitely showed me how to compete in that phase of the game."
There's no guarantee Turner is on the roster when the regular season rolls around, but he has an interesting toolbox of traits. Training camp will determine whether or not he can dip into them effectively.
"I'm definitely able to bring that size, physicality," Turner said. "I love (to hit). Just giving the coaches that other option. If he knows his stuff, maybe we can move him around and put him down in the box. If he can play deep, play Cover 2. Just all the versatility that comes with it."
Images of the safeties on the Cardinals' 90-man roster