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Cardinals’ loaded defense defies convention

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TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals quietly changed the position designations for several defensive players two weeks ago. They no longer have any defensive ends on the roster; just defensive tackles and one nose tackle. Deone Bucannon is no longer listed as a safety but is listed as a “moneybacker” or $LB, for short.

Changing ends to tackles made sense to the team because the Cardinals’ ends rarely line up outside the offensive tackles. More often, they are in “three technique” or the outside shoulder of the guards.

“We’re taking double teams the majority of the game,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. “I would call myself a D-tackle at this rate.”

And while Bucannon was drafted as a safety, he has played inside almost exclusively at inside linebacker in his two NFL seasons.

“I’ve heard of something like it, but I’ve never seen a moneybacker,” Bucannon said. “Usually it’s a rover or a landshark or something like that.”

–Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney got his first sack as a Cardinal Monday night. It came off his famous spin move. The Cardinals desperately need outside rush help, so Freeney’s play was encouraging to coaches.

“Dwight had a nice ballgame,” coach Bruce Arians said. “He was around the quarterback, chasing him around, and Bettch (defensive coordinator James Bettcher) did a nice job of putting together a nice little package for him.”

–General manager Steve Keim said Tuesday morning that he would like to explore contract extensions for a few players before the season ends. Keim declined to reveal names, but the secondary has to be addressed. Safety Rashad Johnson and cornerback Jerraud Powers are due to be unrestricted free agents.

The contracts of backup cornerback and pro bowl special team Justin Bethel and backup safety Tony Jefferson are also up after this season.

NOTES: CB Jerraud Powers (hamstring) is expected to be out two weeks. Justin Bethel will start in his place but there is little depth. Rookie Cariel Brooks is the sole backup on the roster. … OLB Alex Okafor (calf) could play this week in Cleveland after missing the last two games. But the Cardinals have some depth at outside linebacker, so they might proceed with caution given the bye week net week. Rookie Marcus Golden has done a decent job in Okafor’s absence. … TE Darren Fells (shoulder) is expected to miss at least another week. Jermaine Gresham is starting in his place. … WR John Brown has played the last two weeks with sore hamstrings, and it hasn’t been easy. Brown had a left hamstring strain entering the Steelers game, then strained his right one in practice last week. His trainer from Miami flew to Arizona over the weekend to work on Brown, who had four catches for 65 yards and a touchdown against Baltimore.


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