He is usually everywhere on the field during games. In the debut episode of Hard Knocks Wednesday night, he was also everywhere, giving an impassioned speech after the loss to the Eagles about being tired of losing at home; making plays; having teammates and assistant coaches talk about him; discussing with his sister Mary about potentially attending Arizona State and then coming up hobbling near the end of the game against the Seahawks.

Now, on Sunday against the Rams, safety Budda Baker won’t be everywhere. He’ll be on the sideline exhorting the defense unable to play after aggravating an ankle injury. After the game while greeting Seahawks wide receiver Tyler Lockett, Hard Knocks cameras captured him telling Lockett, “My f-ing ankle is f’ed up.”

During the show, asked about Baker, quarterback Kyler Murray said, “Budda Baker, man, real quiet dude, I would say. Just a savage. If I had to go to war with one dude on this team, it would be Budda. I think everybody in this locker room, everybody in this building understands why. Gives everything for his teammates. Loves his teammates. He’s a dog. That’s the definition of Budda.”

Baker missed two days of practice prior to the Seattle game because of an ankle injury and Wednesday afternoon, coach Kliff Kingsbury claimed he had suffered the additional injury early in the game and continued playing.

It’s unknown whether that might have happened and was then made worse late in the game. Of course, that isn’t very important. What matters is that he’ll miss only the fourth game of his six-year career Sunday against the Rams.

“He’s got a different level of passion, crazy; whatever it takes,” Kingsbury said. “The way he plays the game each and every snap and the way he practices. It’s unique to the sport. It’s an honor to be on the field with him.”

Kingsbury was asked, while taking into account all the adversity the team has faced this year, whether he wonders what might be next after losing a player of Baker’s caliber.

He said, “No, it’s just part of the league and you understand that. I think times like this are when you get a chance as a coach to really grow and see how good of a coach you are. Anybody can coach All-Star teams. It’s one of those deals when yo have things that come up, you’ve got to adapt, maximize your personnel and who it is. It’s an opportunity to grow as a coach and a coaching staff and that’s the approach we’re taking.”

Asked the same question, tight end Zach Ertz said, You don’t want to go down, ‘What happens next?’ but the adversity we’ve faced has been … we’ve faced a lot of adversity as a team. There’s just been a lot of things going on not only during the season but in the offseason. At the end of the day when adversity is at its highest, that’s when guys gotta shine. That’s when guys gotta (say), ‘What is our foundation as a football team?’ When everything is shaking around you, what do you rely on? For me, it’s the way we practice, the way we approach the game. Our best players gotta be playing our best football. And I feel like I’m one of them. I want all my guys out there, but no matter who’s out there, I gotta connect with them and make sure everyone’s on the same page.

“Help the center out, help whoever I can out and do what I can do to put this team in a position to be successful. Because we got really good football players and yeah, some guys are down and we miss them for sure, but that just means I gotta raise my game just a little bit more. Maybe J.J.’s (Watt) gotta raise his game just a little bit more or maybe Budda, J.T. (Jalen Thompson). Our best players have to be playing our best football, especially this time of the year and especially when you’re dealing with a lot of adversity.”

Of course, the reality is what a big loss Baker is for the defense.

“Yeah, it’s huge,” Kingsbury said. “You watch the film this year, I think he’s playing as good as anybody at any position in the league. Week in and week out, the effort, the hustle plays, his attention to detail, the stuff he’s doing to get us lined up on the back end; it’s just been elite.

“It’s a tough loss and tough for him, but he means a lot to this place. He’ll still be around the next couple weeks helping us out, but yeah you can’t replace a guy like that on the field.”

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph seconded that emotion.

“We won’t be better without Budda, but that’s part of the game. Guys get nicked,” Joseph said. “You can’t replace Budda; he’s having a great year. It won’t be good for us, but we’ll move on and play.”

Expected to get many of Banjo’s snaps is Chris Banjo, who said of Baker, “The fire and passion he brings to the game. I don’t think you can replicate that anywhere in the league. Him not being on the field is going to be impactful.”

In one Hard Knocks scene, linebackers coach Bill Davis challenged his players to play as hard as Baker.

Safety Charles Washington is expected to be activated this week after being designated for return Wednesday, but he has been on reserve/injured since Sept. 1.

While initial reports said Baker would miss two or three games, Kingsbury said he’s hopeful he can play in Week 11 when the Cardinals play the 49ers in Mexico City on Monday Night Football.

“We need him,” Kingsbury understated. “There’s no doubt he’s an eraser back there. He’s one of the best players in the league and a great leader as well, so we definitely need him back as soon as possible.”

Meanwhile, Baker said he will do all he can while not playing. He told the team website, “I definitely feel I can be a big leader still. Whether it is just talking to the guys, watching film with the guys, telling guys what I see on film, whether that is the rotational stuff will look like, or plays – and the Rams have specific plays they do – man, zone, all the aspects I know playing against them for six years, I’ll help those guys out.”

But it won’t be the same without No. 3 roaming the field. As Kingsbury concluded, “You don’t replace a guy like that, but (we’re) trying to find the best answer to try to supplement and do what we can do with that position.”

It’s a Hard Knocks Life …

Kyler Murray Hurt … Again

In Murray’s first year, he continued playing near the end of the season with a hamstring injury.

In 2020, he injured his shoulder in the second game against Seattle when the Cardinals were 6-3. They lost that game and although he didn’t miss any games, Murray wasn’t the same player as he was protecting himself. The Cardinals were 2-4 after that game, and he departed early in the season finale 18-7 loss to the Rams with a leg injury when a win would have meant a playoff spot.

Last season, he missed three games after suffering a high-ankle sprain in the Week 8 loss to Green Bay that dropped the Cardinals to 7-1. The Cardinals were 2-1 in the games he didn’t play, and then 2-5 the remainder of the season when again he wasn’t the same. That finishing record included the playoff loss to the Rams.

On Hard Knocks, he told Derek Garris, the team’s director of rehabilitation/physical therapist, that his hamstring was tweaked on a 17-yard run on the team’s final possession of the first half against Seattle. Seven plays later, he ran nine yards to the Seahawks 31-yard, but fumbled and Seattle recovered.

On the sideline, he admitted he wasn’t able to “fully open up” on the run. It’s notable that he had six runs for 53 yards in the first half, but only two for seven in the final two quarters.

Without Hard Knocks, we wouldn’t know any of that. After all, when Kingsbury and Murray spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon after practice there was no mention of an injury. Instead of a regular practice, there was a closed walkthrough and it was learned he wouldn’t have practiced on the injury report that was distributed a couple hours later. However, at that point neither was able to be asked about the hamstring issue.

Murray was limited in practice Thursday and while there is every indication he will play, the obvious question is whether Kyler Murray can be Kyler Murray against the Rams.

DHop and Kyler

We knew there was a sideline exchange between Murray and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins during the game to which both gave vanilla answers when questioned after the game.

The cameras captured Hopkins telling Murray he had been wide open on a play. Hopkins said, “What you lookin’ at, bro. I was wide open,” and added ”what you see?”

Murray said he was “trying to win” and told Hopkins to “calm the f— down.”

That, of course, is what he said twice to Kingsbury near the sideline in the Week 7 Thursday night game against New Orleans after a timeout when Hopkins played peacemaker. It was somewhat surprising Hard Knocks didn’t show that sequence.

We get the feeling Murray uses the term frequently, perhaps even when his dog gets rowdy and he tells him to “calm the f— down.”

DHop and Isaiah

Both Hopkins and linebacker Isaiah Simmons attended Clemson, albeit many years apart, but a frequent topic of discussion is how Hopkins often mentors the third-year player.

Hard Knocks showed them having a meal in a restaurant and at one point Hopkins talked about the PED suspension that cost him the first six games of the season.

He said, “It was tough for me not being able to play those six weeks, bro. I ain’t never been through anything like that. I feel like I let y’all down. I was confused in an angry way to have that happen. (But) I think it was a lesson in life that God wanted me to go through that I can’t change. I’m happy I went through it. It made me stronger.”

It’s Leo again

Kingsbury gave a tour of his Paradise Valley home made famous on the first day of the 2020 NFL draft to the cameras, and showed his movie room where he often watches murder mysteries on Dateline NBC on Friday nights; a large painting of a lion that he has because he’s a Leo and the great view of Camelback Mountain from his open floor plan.

To that, he said, “I never see it though because it’s dark when I leave and it’s dark when I get back.”

Self-inflicted wounds

While that has been a subject for several year when the Cardinals lost, it has been almost a weekly talking point this season.

There were many, but perhaps the most troubles were false starts. Murray was heard as he walked off the field after the loss, asking, “How many pre-snap penalties did we have?”

The answer is five from different players. Four were by offensive linemen: tackle Kelvin Beachum, guards Cody Ford and Lecitus Smith and center Billy Price with the fifth by wide receiver Robbie Anderson.

The boot

After the Cardinals cut the Seattle lead to 24-21 with 3:32 remaining in the game, the Seahawks started the next possession from the 15-yard line. The Cardinals had all of their timeouts and the two-minute warning, so a defensive stop could have put them in position to tie or win the game.

However, on the first play, quarterback Geno Smith rolled to his right as tight end Noah Fant moved fast from the left side of the formation to the right.

It caught the defense off guard expecting a run, and after Fant caught the short pass at about the 19-yard he ran virtually untouched to the Cardinals 34 for a 51-yard gauin.

Earlier in the show, defensive line coach Matt Burke warded his unit about bootlegs and noted how Smith had run the boot 14 times in the previous three games.

As Fant catches the ball, audio caught Joseph saying, “The boot, there’s the boot. We talked about the boot. Get him down. Oh my God. We talked about the boot.”

When he met with the media Thursday, Joseph said, “I watched a little bit. My son was watching and he was laughing, having a good time with it. So he enjoyed it. I hate watching those kind of things. I saw about 10 minutes of it. It looked pretty fun, I guess.”

He was then asked about his words on the boot to Fant, and said, “My son informed me (which elicited laughter) that I was being pretty wild and being a nutjob on game day. But it’s an emotional game. I’m not afraid to say I’m emotional on gameday. I want to win. The weekly investment is heavy. If they score one point, my soul just leaves my body every time they score. So I’m not embarrassed to say I’m emotional on game day. I’m not.”

Don’t hesitate to comment or ask questions on Twitter @hbalzer721 or email me: howard@gophnx.com


Howard Balzer is in his 47th year covering professional football as a writer, editor and broadcaster and has covered 41 Super Bowls. His connection with pro football began in 1976 with College and Pro Football Newsweekly, and since then he has been a featured columnist for The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, USA Today Sports Weekly and The Sports Xchange. Balzer moved to St. Louis in 1978 to work for The Sporting News, where he became Pro Football Editor in 1979. He was an analyst on ESPN's initial broadcast of the NFL Draft in 1980 and continued in that role through 1988. He has won seven writing awards in the Professional Football Writers of America competition, won an Emmy for commentaries on KPLR-TV in St. Louis in 1986 and was nominated for an Emmy in 1988 and 1990. He was named the 2016 winner of the Bob Broeg Media Award presented by the St. Louis/Tom Lombardo Chapter of the National Football Foundation and College Hall of Fame. The award is for enthusiasm, integrity, professionalism and devotion to the game of football and is reserved for individuals whose contributions to football in the St. Louis area have made a significant difference. Balzer was an officer (secretary and secretary/treasurer) for the Professional Football Writers of America for 33 years and was inducted into the St. Louis Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Balzer relocated to the Phoenix area in 2020 as the publisher of the FanNation AllCardinals site and is now the Cardinals reporter for PHNX. He is entering his 19th year as one of 49 voting members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and is also on the Hall's Seniors Committee. He is the co-host of the weekly Pro Football Hall of Fame radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio and is a part-time host at ArizonaSports 98.7 FM.