- Josh Weinfuss, ESPN Staff Writer
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- They either faced him or coached him.
“Well, he was an enforcer,” Arizona State coach Todd Graham said. “One of the most physical safeties we played against here. Very physical tackler. An imposing player.”
Bucannon’s reputation as a hitter precedes him. Against Arizona State in 2013, Bucannon had 12 tackles -- 10 solo -- and an interception. A year earlier, 11 of his 17 tackles were solo efforts.
“He’s a great tackler,” Graham said. “He comes to balance really well, but a dominating tackler, a guy that finishes in a dominating position every play. A sure tackler, a physical tackler and probably one of the most physical players in the Pac-12.”
Washington State coach Mike Leach and his staff only experienced Bucannon’s physicality for two years.
When Leach’s staff was hired before the 2012 season, Cougars defensive coordinator Mike Breske knew about Bucannon’s reputation. During their first spring practice together, Breske and Leach saw it first-hand.
“He’s on that field, he’s got the helmet on, the pads on, he’s playing ball,” Breske said. “When he takes the helmet off and the pads off he’s a different person. Definitely a light goes on when he puts that helmet on.”
What Bucannon does well is widely known. He likes to lay the lumber -- he’ll actually seek it out. He likes playing the run. He’s good roaming the secondary.
But how would Leach game plan against his former star safety?
“Try to fool him,” Leach said while riding his bike on Washington State’s campus. “Right now, I think his biggest strength is his aggression and sometimes it’s a weakness. It’s a strength that goes beyond hitting people, because he can hit them like crazy. Extremely physical. The most physical safety in the country right now.”
As good as Bucannon has played the past two seasons -- he combined for 220 tackles and 10 interceptions in his final two years in Pullman -- there are areas he needs to work on, especially man-to-man coverage.
He won’t be playing much man coverage with the Cardinals, but there are times when he will match up against a tight end or bigger receiver. Breske said the Cardinals need to get Bucannon in space.
“He’s a tireless worker,” Leach said. “What gets in his way there is he wants to bite the guy, and he’s been rewarded relatively handsomely because he’ll hit a guy so hard that the ball comes loose whether it should or not -- or he’s in position to get an interception, that type of thing.
“Sometimes he’ll try to make a little too much happen there, and that’s why they describe him that way, and that’s why there is a portion of that that’s accurate.”
But, Leach said, if it came down to coaching a player who needs to ramp up his aggressiveness or turn it down, it’s easy who he would pick.
“You take Deone every time,” Leach said.