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Budda Baker said he had no idea what a life-changing experience it would be to become a father for the first time. But just because the Cardinals safety and his girlfriend welcomed a baby girl into the world over the weekend doesn’t mean Baker is going to turn into a doting daddy and forget how to bring the heat on the football field.
On the contrary, after losing to the Rams on Monday Night Football and blowing a chance to clinch a playoff berth, Baker is as eager as ever to throw his body around like usual and create some havoc for the Detroit Lions at Ford Field this Sunday.
“Budda’s pretty focused, regardless,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said Wednesday with a smile. “I know he was thrilled, obviously, to become a dad for the first time. But he’s pretty dialed in. He doesn’t change his expression much when he’s on that field. He’s locked in and kind of turns into a different character.”
He might only stand 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weigh 195 pounds, but Baker might be one of the toughest players in the NFL and pack the biggest punch, pound-for-pound. His play has always been respected by his peers throughout the league and he’s been recognized for it through three Pro Bowl selections and two first-team All-Pro honors.
Now in his fifth season, he figures he’s only just reaching his prime and he isn’t about to stop flying around with his trademark reckless abandon. He’s on pace to finish with 100 or more tackles for the fourth straight year, already has established a career high with three interceptions this season and can’t wait to make more noise during the final four regular-season games this year.
He might be one of most soft-spoken players on the team, but he morphs into a human torpedo and tackling ninja on game days.
“I kind of show it a little more with my mouth and of course with my game,” he said Wednesday. “I’m always going to be a very high energized guy, the guys who you want to look at and hopefully get turned up a little bit by looking at me and you want to be on fire more in that kind of aspect.”
In other words, his physical play is contagious. But not everybody plays the game the way Budda Baker plays it. His style is without care or concern for his body, despite his smallish stature.
“First off, I’ve always played the game like that and second, I know the game of football,” Baker said. “I know the angle that I’m going to be hitting this person. I know that certain parts of my body are not going to hurt because I’m coming with this amount of velocity and speed to this player.
“You guys see me on TV. I might miss a tackle. I might miss one or two. But nine times out of 10, I’m going to get that person down. That’s my job as a safety.”
His job goes deeper than that, however. If Baker isn’t huddling with a fellow defensive back to fine-tune something in the game plan that particular week or helping bring a rookie up to speed, he’s constantly barking up his teammates in practice or in the locker room with enthusiastic messages.
It’s one of the reasons why he was named a team captain for a second straight year.
“Yeah, he’s definitely one of the vocal leaders on the team,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who joined the Cardinals two months ago in a trade from the Eagles. “He’s definitely going to be one of the guys to bring the team (together) and kind of get everyone going during the week and hold guys accountable.
“But even when I was playing against him, you watch the film for five plays and you can feel his energy, you can feel his passion just by watching him fly around each and every play. I told him last year after we played him, I said, ‘You’ve got to be the most in-shape person I’ve ever played against. You’re flying to the ball each and every snap.’
“I just think the way he goes about his business every play, even on the practice field, is infectious for the entire team. He’s a really, really good leader and obviously, a great player.”
If anything, the birth of his daughter Alani just might make Baker an even better leader and football player than he already was. It’s certainly changed his perspective on life.
“For me, just thinking about having a whole other mouth to feed, a whole other human to take of, it makes me want to work harder in whatever I do,” he said. “Whether that’s being a better father, a better football player, a better friend, a better brother, everything. Just try to be better at everything.
“Of course, football, I love football. It’s my job and it’s the work that I do and I’m always going to love it and I’m always going to want to play a high level and be at a high level in my sport. But when you think about it, it has to be about trying to get better at every aspect as well.”
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch.
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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Budda Baker is a new dad, but he's still the same heat-seeking safety