GLENDALE, Ariz. — Now that he isn’t trying so hard to prove he deserved to be a first-round draft pick, Deone Bucannon is looking more and more like one.
Coach Bruce Arians said the strong safety from Washington State was too hard on himself in offseason workouts, trying to be perfect.
Teammate Tyrann Mathieu told the 2010 Vanden High graduate just to “relax, man.”
Bucannon seems to have heeded the advice, and the plays have come. Twice in recent workouts he’s intercepted passes. He’s also impressed coaches with his quick adjustment to the “dollar” linebacker role in certain defensive sets.
Bucannon had three tackles, two them solo, in Arizona’s 32-0 drubbing of Houston in the Cardinals’ preseason opener.
“He’s relaxed now,” Arians said. “He’s very comfortable in the defense and is just growing by leaps and bounds every day.”
The Cardinals’ defense ranked sixth in the NFL last season, and Bucannon acknowledges he wanted to show he could keep up that high standard.
“I’m trying to fit right into the system that they have laid out for us,” he said.
Bucannon credits Mathieu, who is rehabbing from knee surgery, with helping him transition into the pro game.
“He’s helped me a ton,” Bucannon said. “I can understand why he’s so successful. He’s a natural baller. He understands inside and out football. He IS football.”
Mathieu said he told the rookie, ‘”You just have to relax, man. I mean, plays are going to come to you. You’re going to have two, three plays in practice that you are supposed to make,’ and he’s been making those plays.”
Bucannon brought a reputation as a big hitter from the Pac-12 when the Cardinals made him the 27th overall pick in the draft.
His adjustment period in initial offseason workouts was expected.
“I feel that goes for any rookie,” Bucannon said. “You’re getting out there and you don’t know what to expect. I’m starting to get more comfortable. I’m starting to understand the guys and how they play.”
The idea is to start him alongside Mathieu at safety, the final piece in a secondary that, with Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie at cornerback, could be one of the best in the NFL.
So far, Bucannon is behind Tony Jefferson on the depth chart “and Tony’s not going to go away easy,” Arians said.
In the meantime, Bucannon is playing some at “dollar” linebacker in certain defensive sets. It can be a tough transition.
“Sight lines, where your eyes need to be all the time, who you’re keying, who you’re reading, are totally different than safety,” Arians said, “so it was a whole new learning experience. That’s why I’m so pleased he picked it up so fast.”
Bucannon was eager to learn the new position.
“Anything to get on the field, honestly,” he said.
The biggest difference is reaction time, Bucannon said.
“It’s crazy. At safety you have 10 to 12, 15 yards to diagnose a play,” he said. “At linebacker, it’s 2 to 3 to 5 yards, and you have to diagnose the whole play, left to right.”
That means, Arians said, “There’s somebody hitting you in the face real fast. He likes that part I think.”
And, at 6-foot-1, 211 pounds, “he looks like a linebacker,” the coach said.
It’s no coincidence that Bucannon began to play better when he put on shoulder pads.
“I think he’s comfortable hitting people. I think that’s the biggest thing,” Mathieu said. “He couldn’t do that in the spring.”
Bucannon is an intense guy.
“He’s full of energy,” Mathieu said.. “He gets on himself when he messes up a play, but I think you need guys like that, guys who hold themselves accountable. I think he’s one of those guys, and he has it at a really young age.”