Deone Bucannon peers over the line of scrimmage in his role as "dollar" linebacker against the Packers on Sunday.
James Bettcher doesn't think Deone Bucannon is an excellent linebacker for a converted safety. The Cardinals defensive coordinator believes Bucannon is an excellent linebacker, period.
For the past two offseasons, holes at inside linebacker forced the Cardinals to move their 2014 first-round pick into the box from the safety spot he played in college. Regardless of the roster composition moving forward or what he is officially listed at on the roster, Bucannon seems to have found a home.
"In my opinion – and I've watched a lot of defensive film over the last three years – he's one of the best linebackers in the National Football League," Bettcher said. "You turn his tape on and you see how well he chases the ball… He'll play physical at the point.
The more snaps he plays, the more little nuances, the more he improves his technique playing the position. I think he could really be a special player in there."
Bucannon leads the Cardinals with 116 tackles and is tied for the team lead in tackles for loss (17), forced fumbles (3) and fumble recoveries (2) while adding three sacks and an interception (which he returned for a touchdown).
Bucannon is listed at only 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, but from early on it was evident that his combination of speed and power would work at the team's "dollar" linebacker position. As his mental acuity has grown, Bucannon has started to become a dynamic playmaker.
He's a scary blitzer, a sure tackler and has the speed to hang in coverage provided he diagnoses a play correctly.
"I've come a long way from last year when I was first playing (linebacker)," Bucannon said. "I've learned a lot being under one of the best linebackers to do it in (coach) Larry Foote. He's taught me a lot of different things that can complement my game. He understands where I'm coming from, as he was a smaller linebacker but very successful at what he did. He always has things to tell me to make myself become a better player."
Even after playing well at linebacker as a rookie, Bucannon felt like he would be better suited as a safety in the long run. After this season's success, and as his comfort level has grown, he now believes this is the position for him.
"I'm a money linebacker," Bucannon said. "I'm in the box and that's where I like to be. I like to be around the ball. I like being physical. I like being able to make plays on the ball. I don't know if this is going to be permanent, but I feel like this is the only thing I've played in the NFL. It would be a harder transition for me to go to full-time safety, because initially I'd be another rookie."
CARDINALS HOPING THE STARS ALIGN
Offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin considers himself a Nostradamus of sorts, and from the first meeting he had with the offense heading into the season, he predicted big things for the Cardinals.
They could very well come to fruition, since the team is 13-2, sports a nine-game winning streak and could enter the postseason as the team to beat. But Goodwin also knows there's a fine line between being talented and capitalizing on it to the fullest extent.
"Just being honest with you guys, the stars are aligned," Goodwin said. "It's whether we keep them aligned or let them come off alignment together. We're a good team. Everybody knows we're a good team. But are we executing in all three phases? That's all it comes down to."
Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said there's no problem with a little swagger.
"It's OK to have confidence," Fitzgerald said. "I think that's anybody talented in any business. I watched the Golden State Warriors when they came to town a couple weeks ago. It wasn't what they were saying, but you could just tell they were a confident group of guys who believed in each other.
"You watch Carolina throughout the course of the year – dancing in the end zone and pictures on the sidelines. They're not saying it, but you know they're confident in their ability. We have a confident group of guys. We know we have a good squad. But like I said, anybody can be beaten on any Sunday."
FREENEY RETURNS TO PRACTICE
Linebacker Dwight Freeney (knee) practiced in a limited capacity on Thursday after sitting out Wednesday. Freeney is coming off a three-sack game against the Packers and seems likely to play against the Seahawks.
Wide receiver Michael Floyd (knee), defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (ankle), linebacker Markus Golden (knee), defensive tackle Josh Mauro (calf) and safety Rashad Johnson (ankle) did not practice.
Others limited were running back Andre Ellington (toe), Fitzgerald (ankle), linebacker Alani Fua (groin), long snapper Mike Leach (back), quarterback Carson Palmer (finger), cornerback Patrick Peterson (ankle), defensive tackle Ed Stinson (ribs) and running back Stepfan Taylor (shoulder).
For the Seahawks, tackle Russell Okung (calf), guard JR Sweezy (concussion) and tight end Luke Willson (concussion) did not practice. Defensive end Michael Bennett (toe), defensive tackle Jordan Hill (toe) and safety Kam Chancellor (pelvis) were limited. Running back Marsawn Lynch (abdomen) has been ruled out.
Images of the fans during the Week 16 victory over the Packers at University of Phoenix Stadium