“With the 27th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Arizona Cardinals select safety Deone Bucannon from Washington State.”
That’s what NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced back in early May — emphasis on the word ‘safety.’
That’s the position Bucannon played during a stellar collegiate career in Pullman; it was certainly where the Cardinals planned to play him during his rookie season.
But things changed. Most notably, inside linebacker Daryl Washington was suspended for the entire 2014 season, making it necessary for head coach Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to be flexible and creative in coming up with a plan for 2014.
Part of that plan was to utilize the rookie in the dollar linebacker position — a hybrid of safety and linebacker — in the middle of the Cardinals’ defense.
“Coach Bowles trusted me with such a big position and such big responsibility, and I’m honored and I’m thankful for that,” Bucannon told Bickley and Marotta Monday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM.
The 22-year-old admitted the learning curve has been steep this season.
“Honestly, the first thing I had to learn was different offensive line fronts, understanding when guards pull and how to adjust my gaps and how to get over and reading the surface,” he said. “That was probably the toughest to know right away because when you’re at safety, you have 10 or 15 yards to diagnose a play. When you’re a linebacker, you have two to five yards to diagnose a whole play and react a lot faster.”
As a First Team All-American and Pac-12 selection in 2013, Bucannon was very comfortable with what his coaches asked him to do at the collegiate level. They never asked him to do anything like what he’s been called on to deliver this year.
“Never, I was always at safety,” he said. “Sometimes, I would drop down, but it really wouldn’t be in the box, it would kind of be outside the box — I’d play more of an outside linebacker. But no, this is the first time.”
He’s learned it quickly. Bucannon is fourth on the Cardinals in total tackles, has four tackles for loss and a fumble recovery. And he’s retained his reputation as a big hitter that followed him to the NFL.
His coaches have praised him, as well as his teammates.
“He’s seeing the game from a totally different perspective, so we knew it was going to take a few weeks to come along to where we needed him to be,” safety Rashad Johnson told Burns and Gambo Monday. “Right now he’s hitting his stride and playing great.
“He’s doing a great job for us filling in at that position. He’s going to be a really, really special player for the Cardinals for years to come, just because his mindset and his drive for perfection. I’ve never met someone as young as him who is just so hungry to get it right every time.”