Cardinals linebacker Josh Bynes takes down Rams running back Todd Gurley on Sunday.
The Cardinals' inside linebacker group has name recognition every which way you look.
There is Karlos Dansby, the decorated veteran who is one of the most identifiable players on the team. There is Deone Bucannon, the former safety who revolutionized the position by excelling despite being undersized. There is Haason Reddick, the athletic first-round pick who is still learning the game but seems capable of being an impact piece down the road.
And yet, it was under-the-radar Josh Bynes who coach Bruce Arians raved about on Wednesday.
"I can't say enough about him right now, the way he's playing," Arians said. "He's one of our best leaders out there running our defense. Good communication, he's gotten better and better at it. Really, really pleased with him."
Bynes, 28, joined the Cardinals in the middle of training camp after tepid free agent interest, and if he didn't impress quickly, it looked like his career might come to an inglorious end.
Instead, he began turning heads almost immediately, and hasn't stopped. Bynes made the team with ease and then provided capable backup play early in the year. He reached a new peak the past two games by registering 16 tackles and a forced fumble while playing in place of an injured Bucannon.
Bucannon practiced on Wednesday and seems on track to return from a sprained ankle on Sunday against the Titans, but Arians said that wouldn't sideline Bynes.
"Josh will be on the field," Arians said. "He'll be out there. We'll see how it goes, but he's playing well enough to make sure he's getting snaps."
Bynes is enjoying his opportunity with the Cardinals. He said once the team signed him, he was going to make the most of it. If that meant becoming a special teams demon, he'd give it everything he had on every play to make a tackle.
When he started learning the defense, Bynes realized defensive coordinator James Bettcher's scheme was tailor-made for his success because it allowed the players to be aggressive.
"I love that part," Bynes said. "They don't make us be robots. As long as you fit and you see something, just go. I like that. It lets us play football."
When Reddick was drafted in April, it was easy to visualize the Cardinals pairing him with Bucannon as the inside linebacker tandem for years to come. But if Bynes continues to excel, he could add a wrinkle to the conversation. He's an unrestricted free agent after the season.
"I obviously wouldn't mind being here," Bynes said. "It's been great being here, and my family, we love it. But at the same time, I can't look forward. Right now I just want to look at the Tennessee Titans."
Bynes has good reason to focus on the here and now. He started eight games down the stretch for the Lions last year, but then sat unemployed for the entire offseason. He scoffs when asked if his performance thus far might afford him a measure of security moving forward.
"There's never security," Bynes said. "Never in this business, ever, at all. Unless you're the franchise quarterback, franchise receiver – those top paid positions. In the position I am, I'm never guaranteed anything. These last two games don't really mean anything, because it's all about this next game against Tennessee and then the next game after that. I don't even know who we play next, because all I focus on is that one week."
"When I was in Baltimore those three years and the Lions the three years prior to this year, there was just never a guarantee I was going to be there. When you're undrafted, there's this halo sitting over your head that says, 'Undrafted. He's undrafted.' You never can get comfortable, because the moment you get comfortable things can go south. I'm focused on whatever task they ask me to do, just play football, and do it to the best of my ability."
Images of the Cardinals cheerleaders during the Week 13 matchup