The Arizona Cardinals have gone through a complete overhaul this offseason. Everyone knows all the changes on offense from the top down. On defense, the team will be switching from the 3-4 scheme to a primarily used 4-3 scheme, meaning that Chandler Jones and Markus Golden will have their hands back in the dirt as defensive ends. It also means that the team will be using 3 primary linebackers.
Deone Bucannon and Haason Reddick, two former first round picks, are two of those starters guaranteed. Bucannon is coming off a subpar season and is now entering the final year of his contract, so look for him to have a productive season in a scheme that may fit his strengths more. Reddick, meanwhile, is entering the second year of his career and seemed to progress each game last season as a rookie. He should take a big leap forward as well.
I see Bucannon and Reddick as a Will and Sam (weak side linebacker and strong side linebacker) respectively, which means the Cardinals still need a middle linebacker, otherwise known as a Mike. The Mike is often the quarterback of the defense and relays the plays to the rest of the defensive group.
Right now, the presumed starting Mike for the Cardinals would be Josh Bynes. Bynes had a great season as a fill-in in 2017, and now that Karlos Dansby is gone, he was rewarded with a three-year contract extension with the presumption that he would be a starter.
Throughout his career, Bynes has primarily been a role playing guy, amassing just 56 tackles in his best season of 2015 with the Detroit Lions. For comparison, at the age of 36, Dansby had 74 tackles for the Cardinals last year.
The Cardinals are expecting big things from Bynes and will rely upon him heavily if they want this defense to function in 2018. Behind the three linebackers mentioned, there isn’t a ton of depth. Scooby Wright, another holdover from the Bruce Arians era, could theoretically take over the middle linebacker position as well, but Bynes probably presents the best option due to his superior athleticism. Reddick or Bucannon could also slide into the Mike spot, but then who would fill their holes that are left behind?
A lot is riding on Bynes to build upon a productive 2017 season, and if he can’t deliver, Steve Keim may be busy on the phones looking for someone who can.