Safety Deone Bucannon covers wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald during an OTA last month.
When the Cardinals began offseason work on the field and the first unit defense was called, Deone Bucannon was in the secondary at strong safety.
In itself that's no surprise. Bucannon was a first-round draft pick in 2014, chosen to play strong safety. But after a season spent essentially as a linebacker in the team's nickel sub-package – and no safety snaps – the move back is meaningful.
"I love playing safety," Bucannon said. "That's where I have been playing for who knows how long. It's good to get back
there and get back 'home.'
"At the same time, I just want to get on the field. I want to be as versatile as possible. I don't want to completely leave the position I played all last year because I feel it worked for me as well."
That won't be a problem. New defensive coordinator James Bettcher said Bucannon will continue to get some linebacker work, not a huge surprise with the Cardinals heavy in safeties they can use. Veteran Rashad Johnson was working at free safety with the first unit, and there is still swiss army knife Tyrann Mathieu who will play a lot in addition to Tony Jefferson to work into the mix.
Bettcher was blunt in saying he'll have the best 11 players on the field, and that may or may not allow Bucannon to be at safety.
"Those are the kind of decisions I'm fortunate I don't have to make (yet)," Bettcher said. "There are some really good positon battles and it's hard to say this guy is ahead of that guy (in the offseason) because it's non-contact. But it sets the stage for training camp."
Getting back to safety, Bucannon admitted, created a bit of a transition. That was natural playing so much closer to the line
of scrimmage as the Cardinals' replacement for suspended linebacker Daryl Washington in the nickel.
Johnson said he saw Bucannon getting adjusted as the OTAs and then minicamp unfolded.
"Playing linebacker you can go a little quicker on your reads, play fast," Johnson said. "At safety you have to be patient. Early in OTAs he was just working on his eyes and working on his patience. You really won't know who Deone is as a safety until he puts the pads on. We all know he's a dominant force in the run game, he's going to be a game changer. We all know he'll adapt back to his position perfectly fine. Just wait until the pads are on."
Bucannon's hard hitting is what the Cards want in the secondary – think of him as Arizona's version of Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor – and whatever evolution the unit might have under Bettcher, Bucannon should eventually be the safety he was drafted to be.
Of this, Bucannon has little doubt, just as he has no doubt he will figure out his "old" position soon enough.
"It's going to happen," Bucannon said. "As far as you need to look at as a safety, and the calls and reads, in terms of that I'm a little behind because I missed a whole year of it. But obviously that's what I have older guys here for, to help me get back to speed.
"(The offseason) is when you learn. Learn as much as you can. Training camp is where you put it all together."
Images from January, 2009, when the Cardinals beat the Eagles, 32-25, to advance to the Super Bowl.