Budda Baker is all of 23 years old, and yet, he is now the grizzled veteran at the Cardinals’ safety position following the release of D.J. Swearinger.
That was apparent on Wednesday afternoon in the locker room, as Baker, the three-year veteran, deciphered plays on a white board tucked inside Jalen Thompson’s locker, while fellow rookie Deionte Thompson addressed the media.
One of the Thompsons – Deionte was a fifth-round pick in April’s draft and Jalen a fifth-round supplementary selection in July – will take Swearinger’s starting spot on Sunday against the Bengals, and both could have prominent roles for the first time in their NFL careers.
“You know that one song, ‘I want to be a baller, shot caller?’” Baker said. “This is their time to be a baller. They’re young, but this is their time.”
Deionte has been ahead on the depth chart through the first four games, seeing action in nickel packages as the free safety. However, Jalen was the superior prospect in man coverage coming out of college, which is the role Swearinger vacates.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Deionte has a better mental grasp of the defense because he was with the team throughout the offseason. Jalen, who arrived at the start of training camp, could be an option against opposing tight ends – players Swearinger had a tough time stopping.
“(Jalen) is the closest we have to Budda,” Joseph said. “They are very similar as far as play style and tackling, having the skills to cover the slot and most tight ends. Hopefully his skills translate on Sunday.”
While the Thompsons are competing for playing time, there is no animosity between them. In fact, the pair has grown close since Jalen joined the team.
“We talk every day,” Deionte said. “We laugh. We joke around. I found out (Tuesday) we actually stay like five minutes down the street from each other. So that’s cool. It’s a distance, but it takes like five minutes. He stays closer to the mall, so when I’m out there I’ll go to his house so I can (walk) to the mall.”
The coaching staff has tried to avoid confusion by calling the pair D.T. and J.T., but that doesn’t always help Deionte.
“My brother’s name is Jalen Thompson, spelled the exact same,” Deionte said. “My mom would be at home and she would say, ‘J.T.’ I would always think we were both in trouble, so I got in a habit of looking around when they say his name, too.”
Jalen admits the release of Swearinger caught him by surprise, but the feeling quickly turned to optimism. A week ago, there was no clear path to significant playing time behind a pair of established safeties. Now both Thompsons could see meaningful action.
“Me and D.T. are ready to make plays,” Jalen said.
Joseph said he’s “just hoping for solid play” out of the rookies, and as the last line of defense on some plays, Deionte knows it’s important to keep mistakes to a minimum.
“If you’re wrong on one step, they’re going to make you pay for it,” Deionte said.
The safety duo of Swearinger and Baker was supposed to help mitigate the absence of starting cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Robert Alford early in the year, but Swearinger’s struggles hurt.
As a result, the Cardinals have gone young, hoping the Thompsons can grow up fast against Cincinnati and beyond.
“It shouldn’t be any dropoff,” Deionte said. “We have to keep the standard of the defense the same, no matter who he puts out there. That’s what we intend on doing.”
Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders during the Week 4 contest at State Farm Stadium