Deone Bucannon was hunched over in front of his locker on Sunday, spending several minutes neatly arranging multiple pairs of cleats and workout shoes into a tidy row. It might have been the most exertion the Cardinals linebacker has felt in weeks.
OK, that’s probably not true. But it’s been so long since Bucannon has played any football that he’s starting to wonder what it still feels like.
“I’m here to play football and I want to go in there and help my team,” Bucannon said. “Hopefully, I’m back out there sooner rather than later, man, because it’s killing me not to be out there with my brothers.”
According to coach Steve Wilks, there’s a good chance Bucannon could return to practice at some point this week, but he said the same thing two weeks ago.
Bucannon hasn’t practiced or played since injuring his left knee on Aug. 2 during a collision in training camp. He jumped to try and avoid hitting a sliding Brice Butler only to smack his knee against the wide receiver’s helmet. According to Wilks, an MRI showed no structural damage and he said Bucannon got lucky in that he only suffered a hyperextension.
Bucannon, though, doesn’t feel very lucky. His knee has kept him from doing what he does best. Bucannon has accumulated 368 tackles since joining the Cardinals as a first-round pick out of Washington State in 2014 – the most by any Arizona player over that time frame. He’s also responsible for calling out all of the communication on defense and getting everyone lined up in their proper assignments.
As much as they miss him, the Cardinals have managed to get along just fine without him. In two preseason victories, Arizona’s defense has allowed only three touchdowns while forcing eight turnovers.
“We’re on such a great track, we’re off to such a great start and I don’t want to be a hindrance to that,” Bucannon said. “I want to go in there and I want to feed off that, making it continue to grow and be even better. … I want to be able to go in there and get them live bullets going. Unfortunately, I only got a few practices in training camp, so it’s going to come fast.
“I’m doing what I can to get back out there and do what I need to do and just be a positive influence for the team.”
Cardinals insider Bob McManaman recaps the latest injury updates and more news from practice on Sunday.
Patrick Breen, azcentral sports
Bucannon isn’t the only starter on defense missing in action. Defensive end Markus Golden remains on the physically unable to perform list following reconstructive surgery last fall. Linebacker Josh Bynes has missed a week with a sprained neck, although he is expected to return this week. And during Friday night’s 20-15 preseason victory in New Orleans, both of the Cardinals’ starting defensive tackles got hurt as well.
Corey Peters managed to return to the game after hurting his knee, but he did not practice on Sunday. Neither did Robert Nkemdiche, who left the game early with a foot problem that apparently had been bothering him for days.
“It’s day to day, I really don’t have a timetable on it right now,” Wilks said of Nkemdiche, who has been hobbled by foot and ankle issues since his rookie season three years ago. “Right now I don’t really want to press Robert to get back out there. The biggest thing is making sure he’s ready for the season opener.
“With Robert, sometimes you’ve got to protect him from himself. We want to make sure he’s getting the proper treatment, which he is, and we’re taking it slow so we don’t have a major setback.”
That’s the same philosophy the Cardinals are using with Bucannon, their “money” linebacker. He would love to play in Sunday night’s preseason game in Dallas against the Cowboys, he said, but it will be up to the team’s medical staff. All he’s really concerned with at the moment is getting back out on the practice field.
“I just thank God for allowing me to be healed and that it’s nothing serious,” he said. “It’s not going to be anything serious, either. But like I said, I don’t want to be a hindrance. I want to be somebody who’s going to come in and just help pick things right up where we’re all at.”
Selfishly, of course, Bucannon wants in on the action, especially after watching the Cardinals force four turnovers in back-to-back games. That’s one of the prerequisites of playing in Wilks’ defense – separating the ball from the ball carrier – and so far the Cardinals are doing it better than anyone.
“We emphasize and stress that all the time,” Wilks said. “That’s part of my trademark everywhere I’ve been since I came into the league, is really takeaways on defense and scoring on defense. So to have eight in two games is very impressive. We’re doing a lot of great things in area.”
Bucannon isn’t surprised by the takeaways.
“These players, man, everybody is a playmaker on this team,” he said. “We’ve got a ton of playmakers. We’ve got great leaders who really understand football. I’ve had the best seat in the house watching them work. But I’m looking forward to getting back out there and joining them.”
That goes for the second- and third-stringers, too, Bucannon said.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. They’re making a lot of big plays as well, there’s no doubt about it. I’m happy for those guys, all of them. They’ve worked so hard to get here, they’ve been in their playbooks nonstop. I’m just glad they’re reaping the benefits of all the hard work.
“I hope it continues. No, I know it will continue because that’s just the character of this team.”
Reach McManaman at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac and listen to him live every Tuesday afternoon between 3-6 on 1580-AM The Fanatic with Roc and Manuch and every Wednesday afternoon between 1-3 on Fox Sports 910-AM on The Freaks with Kenny and Crash.