GLENDALE, Ariz. — When Arizona Cardinals receiver Dan Buckner found himself all alone in the back of the end zone with the ball in Saturday’s 32-0 preseason win over the Houston Texans, he had an immediate thought.
“The first thing I did when I caught the ball, I looked left and right to see if there’s a flag,” he said of the 12-yard reception. “And there wasn’t, I was like, ‘alright, cool.'”
A little funny? Sure. Somewhat pessimistic, especially considering how it was the first time Buckner reached the end zone in an NFL game? Absolutely. But in the NFL, sometimes even positive things do not generate the reward you might believe they would.
Buckner, a second-year pro out of the University of Arizona, is currently fighting for a roster spot. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has indicated the team may keep as many as six receivers on the active roster, and with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Ted Ginn, Jr., John Brown, and Jaron Brown seemingly locks, that leaves Buckner battling with Walter Powell, Brittan Golden, Kevin Ozier and Reggie Dunn for one job — if even that.
And unfortunately for Buckner, despite his performance in Saturday’s game and subsequent solid week of practice, it may be a fight he’s already lost.
“You’re probably talking about Jaron (Brown), (Brittan) Golden and then (Walt) Powell,” general manager Steve Keim said Wednesday when asked which receivers had a chance at the final one or two spots. “All three of them have had great camps. Whether we keep five or six, I expect that even beyond six there’s going to be one or two players that could potentially roster for another team.”
Was Buckner’s name left out intentionally? Maybe. Or, perhaps the former Wildcat’s name just slipped the GM’s mind. At any rate, if Buckner is indeed behind in the race, that would mean the pressure is on for him to keep himself in contention.
“It’s pressure, but some people crack under pressure and some people thrive under it,” he said. “We challenge ourselves as a receiver group to get better as well as competing with each other. When we see someone do great, we’re still happy. When J.B. makes big catches or Fitz or whoever makes a great catch, we cheer them on. If I make a great catch, they cheer me on.
“We’re a family. We know somebody has to go, but we’re just going to play our best every day and compete.”
Buckner is currently going through his second training camp with the Cardinals. After signing with the team as an undrafted rookie free agent in April 2013, he was released by the team on Aug. 30. He was added to the Cardinals’ practice squad on Sept. 17, but was released four days later. He was signed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ practice squad a few days after that, but was released a week later.
Buckner returned to Arizona’s practice squad on Nov. 5, and has been with the team ever since.
“Buck’s one of those guys that he’s like a coach out there,” Arians said. “He’s always in the right spot, he’s coaching all the other guys. He was on our practice squad for a reason last year, because I trust him if we need him to go in at any position in a wink’s notice. So yeah, he’s always in the mix because he is that smart and tough.”
If Buckner has something going for him, it may very well be his size. Outside of Fitzgerald and Floyd, the Cardinals are not set to feature a wideout taller than 5-foot-11. Buckner, who is 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, offers something few else on the team do.
“He’s long,” Cardinals QB Carson Palmer said. “You can throw the ball kind of all over the place to him, he can come down with the ball. He’s got really good hands.”
The Allen, Texas native showed flashes of ability throughout his college career, but was never quite able to put it together and be the star many expected. After catching 50 passes for 526 yards and six touchdowns in two seasons at Texas, he transferred to Arizona, where he caught 103 passes for 1,379 yards and seven touchdowns over two campaigns.
It’s possible should he not make the Cardinals’ active roster he will again find himself on the practice squad, though no doubt that is not his goal at the moment. Until told otherwise he will continue battling for a job, and like Keim intimated, that job may end up being with another team.
Buckner understands the reality that is everything he does right now is an audition not only for the Cardinals, but the rest of the NFL. So, he says the plan is to continue improving in all aspects of the game. With Floyd and Ginn, Jr. nursing injuries this week, there have been more chances for him to get on the field, make plays and show the coaches why they should keep him around.
The reality, though, may be that at this point no matter what the 24-year-old does on the field, the team’s depth at receiver may ultimately leave Buckner on the outside looking in. While that would be disappointing for him, the wideout’s only focus is on putting together good practices and playing well when given a chance during a game.
“Whatever happens, happens,” he said. “I’ve got my faith in the Lord. All I can do is give me all. If I know that I left it all out there and maybe I didn’t fit here, maybe I fit somewhere else. But I’m just going to go day-to-day and have fun.”