You’ve heard of “The Untouchables,” the motion picture about 1930s’ crime fighters trying to bring down gangster Al Capone. There’s also “The Expendables,” the flick about a collection of elite mercenaries who carry out all sorts of impossible missions. And of course, there’s “The Incredibles,” a Pixar film about a family of quiet, ordinary undercover superheroes who are forced into action to save the world.
Now get ready for “The Interchangeables,” a soon-to-be-released hit brought to you by the Arizona Cardinals and directed by first-year coach Steve Wilks.
Premiering this fall, it’s based on a true story with stars Antoine Bethea, Tre Boston and Budda Baker as themselves, a trio of NFL safeties who are seen as so versatile and interchangeable in the defensive backfield that they are on a quest, as Boston puts it, to become “the best secondary in the league.”
“It could be lights out, man,” says Boston, the newest member of the group. “It’s all about how we get this together as quickly as possible. The chemistry has to build and it has to build now. But I think at the end of the day, we have the potential to be dangerous, one of the best secondaries in the league.
“That’s what we plan on doing. We plan on being the best secondary in the league.”
What figures to set Arizona’s safeties apart from other units around the NFL is the way they are expected to be deployed:
- Bethea, the Cardinals’ elder statesman and clear-cut leader of the group at age 34, will usually line up as the starting strong safety.
- Boston, who signed a one-year, free-agent deal with the team on Friday and knows Wilks’ defensive philosophies better than anyone after previously playing under him for three seasons with the Carolina Panthers, will man the free safety spot.
- Baker, the young up-and-comer, will see the majority of his time in the box as a nickel defender who can attack in both passing and running situations while also being freed up on occasion to blitz the quarterback.
But there’s more to it than that. Much more, it turns out. Since Bethea and Boston can each play strong safety and free safety, they will flip-flop assignments and coverage duties at a moment’s notice. One will creep forward while one drops back. Opposing teams just won’t be able to know which one will do which, and that can spell all kinds of problems for an offense.
“Teams are really going to have a hard time diagnosing what we’re in, what we’re coming with,” said Boston, 26, who is coming off a career year with the Chargers last season when he finished with 79 tackles and five interceptions. “There’s a difference between (Cover) 2 shell and high safety. Not only that, but when offenses and quarterbacks get into detailing what they want, that’s where we can really fool ’em.”
Typically, for instance, a quarterback will easily identify the safety who always plays deep. The quarterback will learn that safety’s tendencies on everything from how and when he will turn, what area of the field he will defend, and how he’ll try to gain position on the route runner or ball carrier.
“But if we’re playing left and right,” Boston said of himself and Bethea, “you don’t know which one of us is going to be that guy that goes to the post. You don’t know which one of us is going to the box. We might play strong one time, free the other. It’s interchangeable, man. Again, not a lot of teams can do that. Teams try to do that, but when you have two veteran safeties, you’re able to do it. I think it’s going to help us a lot in the long run.”
Boston and Bethea each had a career-high five interceptions last season and contend they could have even more this year in the Cardinals’ new defense. Bethea, in fact, is banking on it.
“Who knows how many we could end up with,” he said. “There’s definitely going to be opportunities out there for us, so it’s just up to us to capitalize on them. I haven’t blitzed much before just because of the systems I’ve been in, but in this system, the secondary blitzes a lot, so I’m excited to be able to get into those situations, too.”
Baker, 22, will be just as interchangeable as Boston and Bethea in that he’ll constantly rotate around. He’ll go from nickel safety to falling back to cover the post. There will be times when he will act more like a third outside cornerback and times when he moves up to play like an inside linebacker. It’s a multifaceted role Baker excelled at in high school and in college.
“Oh man, the coaches have given me a lot of things to do and I’m excited about it,” he said. “I mean, I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’m just excited to be with A.B. and Tre. They’re veterans and they’ve been making plays for years. I’m excited for what we have coming.”
Baker isn’t big – he’s only 5 feet, 10 inches tall – but he has the physicality, tackling ability and the coverage skills to more than adequately handle the position, according to Wilks, who said: “He’ll be fine in there. He’s very interchangeable, so we’re going to be able to move him around as well.”
The real key to “The Interchangeables,” everyone from star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald to shutdown cornerback Patrick Peterson agrees, is the intangible elements Boston brings to the entire group, including the backups. Boston knows this defense better than any of them because he learned it under Wilks back in Carolina. He can help teach it here and point out the finer nuances of the system to his new teammates.
“It gives us another brain that has a real clarity of the defense,” Peterson said.
Boston also gives the Cardinals another voice.
“Anytime you get a guy that’s been in your system that really understands the details and the concepts you’re trying to get done, he’s really an extension of your voice, particularly in the locker room, the walk-through, when coaches aren’t around,” Wilks said. “He can lay down that foundation and you can see it already with the things he’s doing out there. We’re very excited to have him.”
Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.