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Mind Games Get Josh Bynes On The Field

Linebacker makes up for physical limitations with mental aptitude

LB Josh Bynes stares at Seahawks QB Russell Wilson on Sunday.
LB Josh Bynes stares at Seahawks QB Russell Wilson on Sunday.

Maybe we will finally learn the truth one day -- that certain NFL linebackers weren't born but created in a laboratory.

How else to explain 225- to 250-pound men that can run 40-yard dashes in 4.5 seconds and bench press refrigerators?

The Cardinals have two of these athletic freaks on their team in Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick. Both are former first-round picks who light up the charts in nearly every physical testing category.

Right now, though, they are having trouble getting consistent playing time. One player that's keeping them off the field? Josh Bynes, an eight-year veteran who, if built in a lab, wasn't given the same state-of-the-art parts.

"I've never been the fastest player in the world, but I don't really care for that," Bynes said. "I'm not the strongest. One thing's for sure, though: I know what I need to do on each and every down. I'll give you that. And I'll go as hard as I can and as fast as I can."

Bucannon ran a 4.49-second 40-yard dash coming out of college, Reddick a 4.52 and Bynes a 4.81. However, football is not all physical. The new Cardinals coaching staff began the offseason believing Bucannon and Reddick would be its top two linebackers, until Bynes forced himself into a full-time role.

He has 30 tackles this season, and analytics site Pro Football Focus has given Bynes a team-best 82.4 grade through four games. Beyond his own responsibility, Bynes makes sure the entire defense lines up correctly before each snap.

"When it gets hectic, when things get chaotic, when there is a lot of noise out there on the field, somebody has to take control," defensive coordinator Al Holcomb said. "He's been doing that for us, in terms of orchestrating everything. That's what we need that position to be able to do for us."

Bynes had an early jumpstart on learning the intricacies of linebacker because his dad, Herb, was his position coach in high school. When Bynes got to college at Auburn, he gravitated to the responsibility of the defensive play-caller.

"I'd be the guy with the wristband," Bynes said.

Bynes went undrafted in 2011 but stuck with the Ravens for three seasons and the Lions for three more. He remained unsigned during the 2017 offseason until the Cardinals finally called in the middle of training camp.

Bynes performed so well in short order that he made the team, and the Cardinals inked him to a three-year extension this offseason. Despite the physical limitations, Bynes, 29, will have 10 years in the NFL if he plays out the contract.

"You can find all the measurables, but the one thing about football is, it's football," Bynes said. "I'm a living testament to that."

There was a play against the Seahawks on Sunday that personified Bynes' mental aptitude. Seattle had a 4th-and-1 from the Arizona 44 with 34 seconds left before halftime.

As Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson moved under center, Bynes plugged the gap of a would-be quarterback sneak. As Wilson switched to shotgun, Bynes responded by moving around the Cardinals' defensive linemen. Bynes won the cat-and-mouse game as the Seahawks eventually called timeout. Seattle turned the ball over on downs on the next snap.

"I tried to listen to what he was saying and think about what we have going on," Bynes said. "I'm moving guys because I'm figuring something out. Coach (Holcomb), if I feel like something is going on, he gives me the ability to do that. I just want to put us in the best position to win that down, and then win the game."

Bynes' athletic shortcomings are rarely glaring because he always knows where to be, and his football intelligence is a boon to the whole defense. It's a gift that is hard to duplicate – on a football field or in a lab.

"I'm not perfect," Bynes said. "Everybody makes mistakes. That's part of the game. But I just love having that on my back, knowing that guys can trust me. That's a hard thing to have in life, or in a relationship, or anything. When people trust you, you don't want to let them down. That's what I think about when I take the field. I don't want guys to lose trust in me. I'm going to get us in the best situation, the best checks, each and every play."

Images from past matchups between the Cardinals and this week's opponent, the 49ers