Young Cardinals linebackers in and out of the lineup

Arizona Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick (43) against the Denver Broncos during a pre season game.Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Steve Wilks: "I'm trying to find the right chemistry, the right mix."

Deone Bucannon has been in and out of the Arizona Cardinals' starting lineup multiple times this season and at other times, has almost watched a couple of games entirely from the sideline. It's been a similar trying experience for fellow former first-round draft pick Haason Reddick.

Both linebackers have had their playing time reduced from one week to the next in Arizona's new 4-3 base defense.

Last week against the 49ers, for instance, Bucannon was on the field for a total of just four defensive snaps. A week earlier against the Seahawks, he played almost the entire game. Reddick, meanwhile, made his first start of the season against San Francisco and barely played against Seattle.

It's a constant shuffling situation that doesn't figure to end soon.

Typically, every linebacker other than middle linebacker Josh Bynes has had to sweat it out during the week and wait until game day to know his role for that particular game. It will probably be the same set of circumstances on Sunday when the Cardinals (1-4) travel to Minneapolis to play the Vikings (2-2-1).

"Again, I'm trying to find the right chemistry, the right mix and the guys that are going to get out there and execute on a consistent basis," head coach Steve Wilks said. "That's the biggest thing for me. It's not just having one good game, a few good plays here. We need guys that are going to be consistent, and I'm going to continue to have guys out there competing and rotating until we get the right mix."

At times, it almost seems like Wilks and defensive coordinator Al Holcomb are holding weekly auditions among their group of linebackers. Gerald Hodges has also been in and out of the lineup, sometimes being used as a starter and sometimes being completely out of sight.

Asked if it can be difficult for a first-year head coach to find the right mix, Wilks shook his head.

"I don't really think it's hard," he said. "I think right now, you're just still trying to find, as I mentioned, the right mix, and who we have is who we have. I tell the coaches all the time, we've got to find a way to coach them up. We did what we needed to do in the draft and free agency. Right now, I like our players. Do they need to improve? Do they need to execute? Of course. Do we need to do a better job of coaching? Of course. So, it's all about trying to get the right guys in there."

Six weeks into the season, though, seems as though it means it has taken a lot longer than Wilks expected.

"I don't want to say I'm putting a time limit on it," he said. "Do I want to be better? Yes."

Bucannon and Reddick, who both have been linked to trade reports, have kept their heads down and just kept working. They've also been saying all the right things, trying not to rock the boat too much. But Wilks makes no apologies for shuttling players in and out on a regular basis.

"For the millionth time - I'm going to say it a million and one - the best guys are going to play," he said. "I don't care whether you're drafted first round, fifth round or a priority free agent. We're going to put the guys out there that are going to give us the best chance to win. I think those guys understand that. They know they have plenty of opportunities to be able to show me that they can get out there on the field. If you're a first-round draft pick, we expect you to play to those standards."

SERIES HISTORY: 26th regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 14-11. This marks the Cardinals' second visit to U.S. Bank Stadium, which opened in 2016, and it's Arizona's fifth regular-season visit to Minnesota in the last nine years. The Cardinals have lost each of their last eight games in Minnesota, last winning on the road there in 1977.

Comments