LAS VEGAS -- The lone all-star for the Arizona Cardinals, safety Budda Baker is set to take the field Sunday for the inaugural Pro Bowl Games in Las Vegas.
Meanwhile, the Kansas City Chiefs are preparing to play in Super Bowl LVII at Baker and the Cardinals' home field of State Farm Stadium.
It was the Chiefs' Week 1 44-21 throttling of the Cards that Baker cites as a clear indication Arizona wasn't prepared for the season ahead following a disappointing training camp.
"It started with the beginning of the season in training camp when we had a lot of injuries," Baker told NFL.com on Saturday at Pro Bowl Games practice. "Quarterback [Kyler Murray] was sick. We didn't really have a lot of players practicing and doing a lot during training camp, which then, of course, led to that kind of a s---show Week 1 versus the Kansas City Chiefs."
Baker's play stood out among the Cardinals' struggles as he tallied a team-high 111 tackles in 15 games to go with a pair of interceptions and seven passes defended. He earned a fifth career Pro Bowl selection and exemplified toughness and fortitude by playing through a high ankle sprain that was expected to sideline him for multiple weeks, but forced him to miss no time. Ultimately, a shoulder fracture in Week 16 forced Baker to miss the final two games of the season, but he's been cleared to participate in Sunday's Pro Bowl Games and intends to do so.
"I'm definitely gonna play in the Pro Bowl," Baker said.
It's that season-opening defeat against the Chiefs that still lingers for the two-time All-Pro, though. That 23-point loss began a snowball effect for the Cardinals in what proved to be a massively disappointing 4-13 season. Following the dreadful campaign, head coach Kliff Kingsbury was fired, longtime general manager Steve Keim and the club parted ways, J.J. Watt retired and Murray underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL.
Baker is just waiting to see what's next as the Cardinals' search for a new head coach has somewhat stunningly extended into February. Arizona and the Indianapolis Colts are the only teams remaining without a head coach. Despite the team's struggles this past year, Baker is hopeful but realistic that defensive coordinator Vance Joseph and his staff will stick around under the new regime.
"My job is to just kinda wait on that and go from there," he said. "Hopefully our whole defense isn't going to be taken away, but we know with new head coaches usually they bring in their people."
The 2021 season ended in ugly fashion with a blowout loss to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Round. Still, on the heels of an 11-6 campaign, Baker thought Arizona was going in the right direction. It wasn't. And Baker believes it all dates back to a summer that lacked training and focus.
"I definitely felt like we were on the right path," Baker said. "You know in training camp it was definitely startling to not see a lot of the starters practicing and stuff like that. Cause I knew, you know especially with the preseason games none of us played in the preseason, it's kinda just going through training camp, which was not a lot of people, and then we get to Week 1, it showed who was prepared. I don't think we were as prepared in the beginning of when it all started than what we could've been."