In the season opener, Deone Bucannon struggled, and Josh Bynes had already supplanted Haason Reddick as the second linebacker in the Cards' nickel defense -- which has essentially turned into their base defense. Sunday against the Rams, it was Gerald Hodges starting over Bucannon. With a constant three-safety look and Budda Baker, Antoine Bethea and Tre Boston playing 100 percent of the snaps Sunday, Baker is basically a linebacker in run downs and the Cards only have two true linebackers. That neither are Bucannon or Reddick -- the team's first-round picks in 2014 and 2017, respectively -- is notable.
“All those guys are still in the rotation," coach Steve Wilks said Monday. "They’re still in the mix. We’re trying to find the right mix of guys who are going to be in there. I said it Day One, there’s no entitlement. Regardless of whether you were drafted or what(ever your) status, we’re going to try to put the best guys out there who are going to help us win games, and that goes back to our performance and how we practice, the things that we can go out there and execute from a game-planning standpoint."
It wasn't like Bucannon didn't play on defense. He was on the field for 25 snaps, compared to Hodges' 36. (Bynes played 70 of 72 defensive snaps, Reddick just three.) Neither Bucannon nor Reddick played linebacker in college -- Bucannon was a safety, Reddick a defensive end -- and while Bucannon has played linebacker his whole NFL career, he had yet to do it in the system Wilks and coordinator Al Holcomb run.
When Wilks first arrived, the idea was that Bucannon and Reddick would evolve into the Cardinals' version of Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the Pro Bowl linebackers Wilks and Holcomb coached in Carolina. Not only has that yet to happen, but the former first-rounders now have to fight their way back into the starting lineup.
"All those guys are going to continue to get their reps, and in the end, I’m going to put the guys out there on Sunday who are going to give us a chance to win," Wilks said.