Arizona Cardinals' general manager Steve Keim and head coach Bruce Arians were the duo in charge of making decisions for the organization during last week's NFL Draft, and defensive coordinator James Bettcher stands to be one of the primary beneficiaries of the decisions the pair made.
In the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft the Cardinals added Temple linebacker Haason Reddick and Washington safety Budda Baker, a pair of explosive, versatile athletes who figure to provide immediate help for Arizona's defense this season.
During a radio interview on Arizona Sports 98.7 on Monday morning, Bettcher praised the efforts of Keim and Arians during the draft and said he was surprised the team was able to nab two of the top defensive players on their draft board.
"First of all, what a draft by Steve (Keim) and Terry (McDonough) and coach and Michael (Bidwill), to bring our personnel guys, to really in the first couple of rounds, I don't think any of us thought we'd have the chance to get the two players we got, with Haason (Reddick) and Budda (Baker). Budda, we had ranked pretty high on our board and to have a chance to come up in the second round and for him to still be available, that was really a great move by Steve and coach to go do that," Bettcher said.
Reddick, the Cardinals' first round draft choice, is an intriguing prospect for a coach like Bettcher who has prioritized versatility during his tenure as the team's defensive coordinator. Reddick played outside linebacker in college, but in Monday's interview, Bettcher said he wants Reddick to start working at inside linebacker in Arizona.
"You look at Haason, the ability to play off the ball, we all see his college tape at Temple where he's rushing off the edge, he's a really disruptive player off the edge," Bettcher said. "But then he goes to the Senior Bowl, and you look at everything like all the way back to his individual drills at the Senior Bowl when he's just working at the linebacker position off the ball and you see a guy that can just move and is extremely fluid. Plays with a great feel and awareness and a guy that's going to be really versatile."
Like Reddick, Baker also presents the Cardinals with schematic flexibility because he has the skill set to play either safety position or help Arizona as a nickel corner. Even though Baker doesn't have the same type of ball skills, he's similar to current Cardinals' safety Tyrann Mathieu because both players have the versatility to line up and cover receivers in man conflict situations and both can play over the top of a defense in a 'centerfielder' type of a role.
"As coach talked about after we drafted him, you go to Budda, a guy that's a nickel and a safety, can really play both strong and free safety with his coverage skills and with his physicality and the guy runs around, loves to play the game," Bettcher said. "Really excited, our rookie mini camp is coming up this weekend and we're excited for those guys to get here and get to work."
With the additions of Reddick and Baker, Bettcher now finds himself with two more defenders who can impact the game in a variety of ways. The duo of draftees joins a defense that already features versatile pieces like Mathieu, linebacker Deone Bucannon and pass rusher Chandler Jones, and now, Bettcher has more freedom to tailor his scheme to specific opponents.
"It'll never be about scheme for me, the thing it's going to be about when you turn our tape on or when opponents turn our tape on, I want them to say 'Wow. They run to the ball, they play fast, they play with energy," Bettcher said. "We have unbelievable fans here, our Red Sea here, they deserve a group of guys on defense when the ball gets rolled out, whenever that is, wherever that's at, we're going to play with our hair on fire and we're going to run around and chase and play physical football and that's going to be what our identity is."