Arizona Cardinals safety Deone Bucannon is listed as a safety, but has really not even played a down of safety in the NFL. He has been playing from a linebacker position from the start. His rookie season, he subbed in as the team's dollar in nickel/dime sets. But in 2015, he played inside linebacker every down.
But don't call him a linebacker.
Appearing as a guest on Bickley and Marotta on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he bristled a bit at the notion. When asked if he liked being called a linebacker. "I do not," he said. He will not be changing his number to the 50s any time soon.
"I love linebackers and I'm not going to take offense to it, but I just feel like I don't look like a linebacker," he explained. "When I'm in the box, I still look like 'you're just a big safety.'"
Rather than being called a linebacker, he prefers titles like "rover" or "landshark" or the position he carries on the depth chart -- "money linebacker." He considers it "a unique position."
He does not believe it is something he started, though.
"I like contact and I like being around the ball, but I wouldn't say that I invented the position because there were a lot of safeties who have done it before me," he explained, noting Seattle's Kam Chancellor and Cardinals great Adrian Wilson, who played the majority of the time in the box "banging with the big guys."
However, while he is not the first to do it, the Cardinals have started something. Normally teams would bring a safety down in the box in addition to their seven-man front, creating the eight-man box. Arizona uses Bucannon as part of the seven up front. And teams are beginning to follow suit. The Rams use Mark Barron that way. Washington is considering using rookie Su'a Cravens the same way.
It sort of just happened.
"I knew they wanted me to be an in-the-box safety," Bucannon explained, but it wasn't something they talked about before the draft.
The Cardinals needed the help at linebacker because of the suspension of Daryl Washington, so Bucannon subbed in for nickel sets, replacing Kevin Minter. Last season, he took it over full time.
Arizona has no plans of changing his role, and why would they? He was more productive than any other linebacker, except Carolina's Thomas Davis, in terms of tackles, picks, sacks and forced fumbles.
So Bucannon plays linebacker and has become the first of a new defensive trend. Just don't call him a linebacker or a trendsetter.