Arizona Cardinals safety Jalen Thompson saw all of two snaps before going down with an ankle injury in the team’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
The ankle issue would force Thompson onto the injured reserve and off the gridiron until last week’s meeting with the Miami Dolphins.
The second-year safety did all he could during his off time to stay locked in at the task at hand, watching the games from home and taking mental reps to prepare for when it was his time to return to the field.
And even though Sunday’s result, a 34-31 loss to the Dolphins, wasn’t what Thompson envisioned for his first game back, the safety is keeping a positive mindset and painting a target goal for he and fellow safety Budda Baker to achieve.
He will be the first to tell you they can both get better.
“I feel like we can be the best safeties in the league,” Thompson told reporters via Zoom on Wednesday. “Obviously I need to get a little more work, he needs to get a little more work too. We both do, but overall I feel like we can be the best two safeties in the league. It’s going to take a lot of work. A lot of studying, a lot of film work and just grinding every day. But I feel like we can be the best two if we keep working.”
Thompson’s statline on Sunday didn’t jump off the page, three tackles and a pass defensed. Baker, though, raved about how Thompson being back on the field with him is a huge plus.
“I loved it,” Baker said Tuesday via Zoom. “He did a lot of things for us. You saw him in the slot covering wide receivers, covering tight ends, blitzing at times as well. Kinda just took the stress off of me a little bit.
“He knocked off a lot of the cobwebs and now for sure JT is ready to be even better this next week.”
Thomson’s return comes at an opportune time for the defense, which also welcomes back outside linebacker Devon Kennard and cornerback Byron Murphy after their stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
It’s a big deal for a defense that hasn’t had all of its starters on the field at the same time since Thompson’s injury in Week 1.
Dre Kirkpatrick is another name that would also help bolster the starting defense. After missing the game last week, Kirkpatrick was limited with a thigh issue in Wednesday’s practice.
With numerous defenders looking to have the greenlight come Sunday, Thompson feels the unit as a whole is not only going to take a step forward in Week 10 but over the course of the rest of the year. They just need to play together.
“It’s going to be good. I feel like as a defense we’re kind of a tightknit family so I feel like regardless of who’s down and who’s up, we’re still going to be a family and just that chemistry we have is going to translate on the field in my opinion,” Thompson said.
“Personally, I think we can be the best defense. We’ve got all the pieces, we’ve got all the tools, we’ve got all the leaders and experience. We just got to go out there and do it now. Great coaches calling great plays. We’ve just got to go out there and execute now.”