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Missing Games Doesn't Suit Budda Baker

Pro Bowl safety ahead of original timeline to return from hamstring injury

Safety Budda Baker jogs out to practice this week.
Safety Budda Baker jogs out to practice this week.

Whenever the Cardinals play in Seattle, it's a game that the hometown kid, Budda Baker, looks forward to playing.

Then the safety injured his hamstring before the Week 2 matchup against the Giants. He ended up on Injured Reserve. The hometown game was in jeopardy.

Baker hurt his upper hamstring, which typically comes with a longer recovery process. After his MRI, he was told the injury would sideline him six weeks. At least.

"Personally, when I hear six weeks or six to eight weeks, mentally, I'm just like, 'No,'" Baker said Thursday. "'Let's take it day by day and see how it's going to go.'"

While he has yet to be elevated to the active roster, the Cardinals designated Baker for return this week, and he's doing everything he can to be healthy enough to play against the Seahawks.

"It's something definitely I wanted to get back for and be ready to play," Baker said. "Right now, I'm just taking it day by day and seeing how everything holds up."

Baker called it a "game-time decision," although the Cardinals will at least have to activate him from IR to the 53-man roster by Saturday for that to happen.

Five weeks sidelined has been an adjustment for the Cardinals captain, who has taken a step back, both on the field and in a leadership role.

His presence has been missed on a defense that has struggled in recent weeks. The Cardinals have been outscored 98-30 in second halves, and a big part of that is due to all of the injuries on the defensive side of the ball.

Baker, fellow safety Jalen Thompson, linebacker Josh Woods, defensive lineman Jonathan Ledbetter, LJ Collier, and Carlos Watkins have all missed time.

Baker highlighted Andre Chachere and K'Von Wallace as players that have stepped up, but both coach Jonathan Gannon and defensive coordinator Nick Rallis have said there is no replacing No.3.

"He's one of the best I've been around in a short period of time," Gannon said. "I've really been in awe of him and how he goes about his day. The way he can bring his teammates along with him and elevate their game. As far as the leadership goes and how you can do that as a player, that's really a special quality."

"Budda covers a lot of ground on the field and whether things don't go right because of scheme, because of execution, he's kind of an eliminator," Rallis said. "So, there's definitely an element of when he's on the field, he can eliminate a lot of mistakes with just how he plays."

Gannon added that Baker's return would be a "significant boost" for the unit.

Putting in all the work with athletic trainers, especially Kyle Sammons (a fellow University of Washington product) has allowed Baker to appreciate the game even more. On Sunday, he hopes to return to action in the city where it all began.

"It's definitely something where it's very humbling and something where I had to go through," Baker said. "I don't know if I missed this many games in my whole career, my whole life. It's definitely been different, but I'm glad to be back on the field."

Photos of the Arizona Cardinals cheerleaders from the Cardinals preseason matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, Week 2 of the 2023 preseason