Arizona Cardinals’ Bucannon ready to play, Nkemdiche hurt

Sep 29, 2017, 3:54 PM | Updated: 4:47 pm
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)...
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

TEMPE, Ariz. – It’s been a long wait for Arizona Cardinals dollar linebacker Deone Bucannon. His wait ends Sunday, when, finally, he’s expected to make his season debut.

Bucannon practiced fully all week, putting him on track to play against San Francisco.

“It’s a great feeling, and I’m happy to be back,” he said Friday, a big smile across his face. “I just miss being out there, the brotherhood. From the sidelines it’s even worse because you see everybody making plays and doing things to help the team and you can’t really do anything about it but now I can, so I’m happy about it.”

Offseason ankle surgery robbed Bucannon nearly all of training camp. He targeted a Week 1 return only to suffer a setback once taken off the physically unable to perform list. That first practice back, Bucannon said, he rolled his ankle stepping on somebody’s foot.

“God, he has mysterious ways of working because that actually helped me because that settled everything down. Now people knew that I wasn’t going to be playing and allowed even more time to heal and get 100-percent,” he said.

Bucannon played with a bad ankle for much of last season, starting the first 13 games before being placed on injured reserve. Surgery was performed in June when the injury did not respond well enough to rehab.

“This is one of my first obstacles as a football player, honestly, even since I was younger. I haven’t really had any really major injuries. This is probably my most major one. Guys around here, like I said God, really got me through it and just allowed me to keep my head forward and stay positive. I couldn’t be in a better place.”

Even with a hurt ankle, Bucannon led the Cardinals for a second straight year with 100 tackles and added seven tackles for loss.

“He adds more (to our defense),” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “A guy that’s passionate, that runs, that plays hard, that wears his heart on his sleeve when he plays the game, plays it the way it was meant to be played. Those types of guys on the field, their energy is contagious, their love for the game is contagious.”

The Cardinals now have great depth at inside linebacker with Bucannon joining veterans Karlos Dansby and Josh Bynes plus rookie Haason Reddick, who started each of the first three weeks of the season in Bucannon’s absence.

The trick now, if you’re Bettcher, is finding a way to get all those playmakers on the field.

“The whole thing about getting Deone back isn’t to cut back on Haason’s snaps,” he said. “Now, there’s only so many snaps that you play in a game anyways, but there will certainly be ways we’re going to get both of those guys going early in the game and incorporate both of them in packages.”

There are no limitations on Bucannon, aside from maybe his conditioning. There is a difference between being in shape and being in football shape.

Bucannon, though, sounded ready for how ever the snaps are divided.

“I’m going to embrace my role. Of course, I want to be on the field as much as possible, just like they do as well,” he said. “Whatever the coaches do, I’m sure they’re going to make a plan. They have so many packages we got where we’re all three going to be on field, or however it is. I’m just happy, like I said, to be back out here and we’re going to keep going forward.”

With Bucannon’s return, the Cardinals are about as healthy as they’ve been all season on defense, save for defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche, who once again is dealing with a calf injury and will miss one to two weeks, according to head coach Bruce Arians.

Nkemdiche first hurt the calf in training camp.

“He got over the last one pretty quick,” Arians said. “He just strained it again pushing off somebody yesterday.”

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