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Jalen Thompson Working On Being A Big Hit For Cardinals

Safety proving to be perfect mate with All-Pro Budda Baker

Safety Jalen Thompson gets ready to play Sunday against the Rams.
Safety Jalen Thompson gets ready to play Sunday against the Rams.

Budda Baker has been known to hit an opponent or two, so he had an appreciation for a couple of the blows fellow safety Jalen Thompson delivered during the Cardinals' win in Los Angeles.

"I was just glad the refs didn't call the penalty," Baker said. "These days any kind of hit seems to get a flag, and that just goes to show Jalen's great technique."

It's been more than just technique that has made Thompson the guy the Cardinals have wanted to pair with Baker on the back end since drafting Thompson with a fifth-round supplemental pick in 2019. His versatility, football intelligence and yes, his physicality has turned him into an important piece of an underrated defense.

Baker is the All-Pro, of course. Everyone knows him. Thompson is in his third year, and there are Cardinals' fans who don't know who he is – not that it matters.

"As long as the team is winning and we are doing our job, I couldn't care less if anybody knows who I am," Thompson said.

It's safe to say Rams receiver Cooper Kupp knows Thompson after his big hit Sunday. Thompson was hyped for the game, hailing from southern California and with 10 friends and family in attendance. But like Kyler Murray on the other side of the ball. Thompson is maturing into the player the Cards hoped he could be when they took him in the always odd July slot of the supplemental draft.

Because of the timing, the Cardinals coaches didn't even meet Thompson in person until he arrived for training camp in 2019. The one-time college cornerback also weighed about 175 pounds at that point, light for a safety.

Now, Thompson is between 185 and 190 pounds.

"He showed up as an undersized, very quiet, unassuming guy," defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said. "He grew into a player about Week 10 that (rookie) season. We saw it in practice. His cover ability, the contact violence he plays with, that's rare stuff for a guy with the coverage ability of a nickel back. That's what he brings to the table.

"He can walk over slots, whoever they are, and play leverage or play man to man, and can get the biggest backs in football to the ground when they pop."

Joseph raves about the one-on-one tackles Thompson has made on backs like Saquon Barkely, Christian McCaffery and Derrick Henry in the open field. Thompson also wants receivers to know he's around too, gearing himself for physical play since moving to safety at Washington State.

"Playing next to a guy like Budda obviously elevates that part of my game," Thompson said.

Playing next to a star like Budda can also make it a little more difficult for people to notice Thompson.

"He's just that cool, calm and collected type of guy," Baker said. "He doesn't really care for any of the big adulation or awards. He just wants to play football. He and I are similar in that type of sense. Play football, and all the other stuff will come. He's been playing great this season, finally he's getting that spotlight."

It doesn't hurt when he is flying around to hit an opponent or two and potentially having them think about the next time they are roaming in Thompson's zone.

"Heck yeah," Thompson said. "Setting a tone is a big part of just playing football."