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Newfound Responsibility For Deone Bucannon

Cardinals linebacker will call plays on defense as leadership role grows


Cardinals linebacker Deone Bucannon learning the new defense during voluntary minicamp.

Deone Bucannon has always been the kid brother on the Cardinals' defense.

The 2014 first-round pick entered the NFL with no sense of entitlement and, for the past several years, has willfully soaked in knowledge from more experienced teammates. But as the Cardinals' linebacker enters his fifth season, his role has evolved.

After offseason defections, Bucannon is now the second-longest tenured Cardinals player on defense behind only cornerback Patrick Peterson.

"It's crazy how fast it goes by, and it kind of flips on you," said Bucannon, who is still only 25 years old. "The next thing you know, you're just like the guy that was helping you when you first came in. I'm trying to emulate and copy the people that helped me out."

Bucannon will never be the fire-and-brimstone type, but he is embracing his newfound responsibility. Chief among his duties will be relaying the playcall to the other 10 players on the field before every snap.

Throughout his career, Bucannon has played the secondary role at linebacker, as Larry Foote, Kevin Minter and Karlos Dansby have been the ones calling the plays. Now, coach Steve Wilks is putting it on his plate.

"I think he's doing a great job just picking up the new system, the terminology," Wilks said. "I thought we got off to a great start this week. He's vocal. He's leading the huddle. He is trying to do everything that (Panthers linebacker Luke) Kuechly did for us back there in setting the tone."

Bucannon is expected to play weakside linebacker in the base defense – with Josh Bynes in the middle and Haason Reddick on the strong side – while shuffling over to middle linebacker in nickel formations.

Bucannon is quick to point out he won't be alone in setting up the defense. While he will be the one barking out the orders, veteran safety Antoine Bethea will also play a large role in getting everyone aligned once the offense breaks its huddle.

But this is unquestionably a step up in duty for Bucannon, something he may not have envisioned early in his career while making the transition from college safety to NFL linebacker.

"From when I first started it's a lot different, because I wasn't saying anything," Bucannon said. "I was going out there and I was trying to focus on a play. "Alright, this is what I got. He's running this way. I'm just trying to get there as fast (as possible). I might be wrong.' Now, I have to understand each and every thing."

Bucannon has been watching plenty of Panthers film, where Wilks was the defensive coordinator last season. Carolina boasted arguably the best linebacker corps in the NFL the past several years, highlighted by perennial Pro Bowlers Kuechly and Thomas Davis.

"It's great when you have a blueprint, because you can go back and look at it and know exactly what you have to do," Bucannon said.

While change is in the air for Bucannon, there is one remnant of the past he still grasps tightly. He kickstarted an NFL revolution by succeeding as an undersized hybrid linebacker, earning the moniker "money linebacker" because of his unique skillset.

During Thursday's conversation with reporters, every question began with the premise that Bucannon is more of a traditional linebacker in Wilks' 4-3 defense. When Bucannon was asked if that meant he was going to lose the "money linebacker" nickname, it felt like a DJ had scratched a record to a halt.

"Oh, I'm still 'money,' man," said Bucannon, playfully taken aback by the mere suggestion. "I'm still the 'money backer.' That's still me. … You tried to get me, huh? Yeah, dog, I'm still the 'money 'backer.'"

Images of some of the top linebacker prospects heading into the draft

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