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Mild-Mannered Budda Baker Flips The 'Savage Switch'

Pro Bowl safety a different person when he hits the field

S Budda Baker had a dominant showing on Monday against the Cowboys.
S Budda Baker had a dominant showing on Monday against the Cowboys.

When Budda Baker drives to State Farm Stadium on Sunday for the Cardinals’ primetime showdown against the Seahawks, the silky smooth voice of Brent Faiyez will ooze from his car speakers.

The music choice is an apt embodiment of the Pro Bowl safety's personality – calm, tranquil and low-key.

"It's just cooling my mind down, not thinking about anything," Baker said. "Just driving and listening to R&B."

Moments before he hits the field, Baker will change it up by blasting rap into his eardrums. And when the new catalogue emerges, so too does a different person.

"If you're around him during the day and just interacting with him, he is what you all see," coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "He's a polite, well-spoken, good human being.

"But when he goes on that field, he flips that savage switch."

For those who mainly know Baker off the field, the ferocity and aggression he plays with is astonishing.

For those who only see the human missile on game days, his quiet nature can be a surprise.

Baker said he's long had the dichotomy, dating back to high school when he was "the cool kid on the block" during downtime and a "totally different" person on game day.

"I don't know," Baker said. "I can't really control it."

The Cardinals don't want Baker to change a thing. They made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL during training camp and the contract has looked like a bargain through the first six games of the season.

In the one contest Baker missed this season – Week 4 against the Panthers due to a thumb injury – the Cardinals gave up 31 points. In the five games he's played, they are allowing 16.2 points per game.

Baker slipped to the second round of the 2017 draft because of his size, but being 5-foot-10 and 195 hasn't affected his durability, nor his ability to impact games.

He won the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award on Wednesday after compiling seven tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble against the Cowboys.

"He's a little guy, but he packs a very, very big punch," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "He's almost like the Aaron Donald of defensive backs."

Baker has long proven his ability to be an impact defender in the box, and so heading into Monday's game, the final item on his check list was an interception.

Despite making the Pro Bowl last season, Baker had never nabbed one in his career, until making a great break on an Andy Dalton pass in the fourth quarter and cradling the ball into his chest despite wearing a cast around his injured right thumb.

"I'm always teasing him, always, like, 'Bro, when are you going to get your first pick?'" cornerback Byron Murphy Jr.said. "It's crazy he got his first pick with his little cast on. That's what makes it even better.'"

Baker had a memorable celebration, rolling the football into his teammates like a bowling ball and emphatically reveling in the strike.

By the time he spoke with reporters after the game, Baker was clearly happy, but also back to his laidback self – a week away from the return of savage mode.

"When he crosses those lines," Murphy said, "it's a whole different Budda."

HOPKINS QUESTIONABLE WITH 'LINGERING' ANKLE INJURY

The ankle injury that made wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins a game-day decision against the Panthers has flared up again. He was limited in practice on Friday and is listed as questionable for the game against the Seahawks.

"He's been limited throughout the week," Kingsbury said. "Hopeful that he can go Sunday and be full speed. It's been lingering a little bit. Hoping that he can have the bye (after playing Seattle) and really clear that thing up."

Safety Jalen Thompson (ankle) practiced this week but it's unknown if he will be activated from injured reserve in time for Sunday's game.

"I'm not sure if we are going to make it this week," Kingsbury said. "He's definitely improved. We just want to make sure when he is out there, he's full-go."

Right tackle Kelvin Beachum (ankle), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (foot), defensive tackle Jordan Phillips (foot), outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck (foot) and outside linebacker Kylie Fitts (hamstring) are also questionable. Phillips is the only one that did not practice on Friday.

For the Jets, All-Pro safety Jamal Adams (groin) will not play. Guard Mike Iupati (back) is questionable.

Images from practice at the Dignity Health Training Center, presented by Hyundai.

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