Brentson Buckner wants to bring back the culture on Cardinals D-line
Brentson Buckner says he has retained the bluntness from his first assistant coaching tenure with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Cardinals rang this offseason looking to replace Chris Achuff as the defensive line coach, their only major coaching move after Kliff Kingsbury’s first season in charge.
“The first thing that went into me being back, I got fired from Oakland,” Buckner said with that bluntness Thursday. “Really my family has been here since we first came (in 2013). We never moved.
“I was coming back here to live anyway. The job came open and (defensive coordinator Vance Joseph) called me into an interview to see how it was going to go. I guess it went well.”
Arizona general manager Steve Keim this offseason armed Buckner with free agent signee Jordan Phillips, a behemoth of a man on the interior of the line.
Now there’s lots to be proven. The signing of Phillips, a 340-pound tackle with the ability to move from nose tackle to 5-technique, was criticized for its value and the fact that he hadn’t broken out in statistical terms until he recorded 9.5 sacks last year. Even then, there are bigger questions.
The Cardinals drafted Leki Fotu and Rashard Lawrence, while Zach Allen, Michael Dogbe and Jonathan Bullard are returning.
Can at least one of the rookies step in right away? And can the returning players take a step forward to help Phillips and Corey Peters rewrite the reputation of the Cardinals D-line?
Buckner is calling back to his past with Arizona to trigger a cultural turnaround. He said Phillips should be the most impactful lineman since Calais Campbell, who left in 2016. Buckner has shown his team film of Campbell and fellow former Arizona players like Frostee Rucker and Darnell Dockett.
“The goals for my unit are to be a … mentally, physically, emotionally strong team,” Buckner said. “We gonna put our hand in the dirt and we gonna to play. When you play the Arizona Cardinals, you’re going to know you’re in a fight. That’s my goal, for them to play hard and physical every snap. I tell them, we ain’t got to be the reason we win games, but we definitely not going to be the reason we lose games.
“I’m trying to get them back to that level that when we step on the field, we’re not cocky, but we don’t think nobody can block us.”
Since Buckner left the Cardinals at the end of head coach Bruce Arians’ tenure in 2017, the defensive line coach gained more perspective. He joined Dirk Koetter’s staff with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2018 before it was dismantled and replaced by an Arians-led staff.
Buckner landed under Jon Gruden with the Oakland Raiders last season before being dismissed.
Working under Arizona defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has gone well so far, Buckner said. Joseph’s willingness to build a versatile football team extends to the trenches, and that allows a coach like Buckner to put his players in the most comfortable spots where they can be effective.
“He’s not a dictator, so he takes input from all the coaches,” Buckner added. “He trusts his coaches and the players see that. When the players see that the defensive coordinator trusts his assistant coaches, they buy in more to the assistant coaches so there’s not a divide. He’s been a good cop to my bad cop ’cause I can go off the edge a little bit.”
Both of Buckner and Joseph have pressure on them this year to get production out of the interior of the line. They desperately want to help linebacker Chandler Jones, who has been a one-man show on the edge over the past few years.
Jones had 19.0 sacks last year. The interior linemen: 7.0 combined.
With such a short offseason, it leaves room for potential delays in the improvement plan.
Buckner’s 12 seasons of NFL experience and his coaching reputation — Phillips has cited the hire as a reason to join Arizona as a free agent — could make up for all the newness, the Cardinals hope.
“I mean, he’s played in the league and that’s nice. He has a player’s and coach’s view on everything. Some stuff you see on paper and you say, how’s that going to work?” Phillips said, adding Buckner commands buy-in.
“We got a long ways to go. We got a lot of young guys and not a lot of ball that’s been played.”