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Deone Bucannon In The Nickel

Posted Jul 27, 2014

Notebook: Rookie safety-as-"linebacker," Okafor impresses with transition

Safety Deone Bucannon makes a move in the Cardinals' nickel defense during Sunday's practice.

Sometimes, a nickel defense can be a dime – especially if you have a safety built like Deone Bucannon.

The loss of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington took away the linebackers the Cardinals used in their nickel defense last year. Dansby replacement Kevin Minter is better suited in a two-down role. So, not unexpectedly, the Cardinals are using inside linebacker Larry Foote in their nickel package and then Bucannon as a de facto linebacker as well.

“It kind of just feels like I am a safety in the box, honestly,” Bucannon said. “I don’t feel like a linebacker because I’m not, I’m a safety. At the same time, I feel like I can tackle and I am big enough, on a run play, to shed blocks. When they told me, I was really excited about it. I just want to be the best ‘dollar’ I can be.”

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said getting Bucannon on the field is important because of Bucannon’s speed, but he won’t be the only player featured in the role.

“We’ve got to have versatility in our group,” Bowles said. “Our ’backers are going to play it as well, and (safety) Tony (Jefferson) plays it as well. All our safeties are going to go down there, but he’s the newest and he has to learn the most so he starts out there.”

Coach Bruce Arians said he has been impressed with the play of Jefferson, another reason why Bucannon can be in nickel. The Cards are deep enough in the secondary that playing time isn’t a lock even for a first-rounder, and that doesn’t even account for the eventual return of safety Tyrann Mathieu.

“I’m excited for anything,” Bucannon said. “I just want as many reps as possible. I don’t care what I am playing. I’ll play corner, d-lineman. I just want to get out there and play. Wherever they tell me to go, I’ll go.”

DAN WILLIAMS LEAVES WITH SWOLLEN KNEE

Nose tackle Dan Williams left practice Sunday with a swollen left knee. His status is unknown. Tight end Jake Ballard missed practice with a thigh bruise but Arians said it wasn’t serious.

OKAFOR STANDS OUT AT OUTSIDE LINEBACKER

Alex Okafor had a lost rookie season when he tore his biceps in the third game of the season. Already, he was working uphill has he made the transition from hand-in-the-dirt defensive end in college to standup linebacker.

Now he knows his responsibilities “100 percent” and is working in the first unit with starter John Abraham still absent. Arians said he noticed Okafor make a jump midway through the offseason OTAs.

“He obviously had done a lot of work mentally and physically while he was injured,” Arians said.

Okafor said just getting reps helped in the offseason, “and things started to click.” Abraham sat out much of the voluntary offseason work to not overextend his 36-year-old body, and that gave Okafor ample opportunities.

Abraham, meanwhile, missed a second straight practice Sunday.

“I won’t really comment on it,” Arians said about Abraham’s absence. “Won’t get into personal things. He’s got my blessing.”

NIKLAS AND THE THOMAS LASERS

It’s apparently been a rough week for rookie tight end Troy Niklas, since he has been one of the pass catchers lined up to receive the bullet throws of rookie quarterback Logan Thomas.

While getting used to the soft cast on his right hand during QB School, Niklas got dinged on his chest a couple of times trying to catch a Thomas throw. Then Saturday, Niklas didn’t quite get his head around and Thomas let one fly a tad early, and the result was a football slamming into the side of Niklas’ helmet and he went into his break.

“He’s trying to give people concussions out there, you know?” Niklas joked.

In reality, Arians said Thomas is still trying to find his groove of not throwing too hard all of the time.

“Thank God Troy had a helmet on,” Arians said.

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