Cardinals moneybacker Deone Bucannon preps before a practice this week.
Deone Bucannon smiled, and there had been precious little of that over the last few months.
The Cardinals' "moneybacker" hasn't played since late last season, when an ankle injury sent him to injured reserve. He tried to let it heal on its own, and when it didn't, he had surgery just as the Cardinals began organized team activities.
But Bucannon is finally ready to return, and will be part of the defense Sunday when the Cardinals host the 49ers.
"I just miss being out there," Bucannon said. "The brotherhood, and from the sidelines it's even worse, because
you see everyone making plays and you can't really do anything about it."
Defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Bucannon will have certain packages within which to play. Rookie Haason Reddick has been starting in Bucannon's absence alongside veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby. Bettcher added that Bucannon's return isn't about a loss of playing time for Reddick.
"Everybody is a playmaker," Bucannon said. "We are all football players at the end of the day. I will embrace my role. Of course I want to be on the field as much as possible. Whatever the coaches do, I'm sure they will make a plan."
It's as much the intangibles the Cardinals like about Bucannon's return as his football talents. Coach Bruce Arians said Bucannon adds toughness.
"(Deone is) a guy who runs, plays hard, wears his heart on his sleeve when he plays, plays it the way it was meant to be played," Bettcher said. "Those type of guys on the field, their energy is contagious."
Bucannon said the ankle problem is the first major injury he's ever had. It made things harder.
"Days were longer, weeks were longer, months were longer," Bucannon said.
Originally, Bucannon had a chance to play in the Sept. 10 opener. But his first day off the physically-unable-to-perform list in training camp, Bucannon rolled his ankle. That ended that thought, and Bucannon said it actually helped, because the pressure to return by the first game was gone and he could heal completely.
He got advice from teammates Frostee Rucker and Troy Niklas, both of whom suffered similar ankle problems.
"It took longer than I would've liked, but that's anyone in my position," Bucannon said. "You want to come back quicker when you are hurt."
PETERSON AS PUNT RETURNER
Patrick Peterson made his first appearance as a punt returner on Monday night. Arians said it would be an
occasional thing. Peterson didn't make an impact, slipping on one return for no yards and letting a second bounce deep in Cardinals' territory when teammate Budda Baker slipped by his feet. Peterson said he didn't want to risk muffing the catch, not knowing exactly where Baker was.
"I'm just always eager to touch the ball, with me being kind of an offensive-minded guy playing defense," Peterson said. "I feel that anything is liable to happen when '21' is back there and I have an opportunity to return the ball."
Peterson said the Cardinals will "pick my spots" of when he will return punts.
JOHN BROWN READY TO PLAY
The injury news was not great with the loss of guard Mike Iupati to probable elbow surgery, but Arians said wide receiver John Brown – who hasn't played since the opener in Detroit – will play against the 49ers.
"He can't go out and play 70 plays," Arians said. "He'll be available."
Arians said wide receiver J.J. Nelson is "about the same" as he was last week with his sore hamstring. Defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche re-injured his calf pushing off someone Thursday and Arians said he'd probably miss a week or two.
For the 49ers, linebacker Reuben Foster (ankle and safety Eric Reid (knee) are out. Linebacker Pita Taumoepenu (ankle), linebacker Brock Coyle (concussion), running back Carlos Hyde (hip), fullback Kyle Juszcysk (concussion) and safety Jaquiski Tartt (concussion) are questionable.
Images of the key players for this week's opponent