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For Cardinals' Needy Pass Rush, Dennis Gardeck More Than 'Nice To Have'

Team pinning edge rushing hopes on youth, group effort

The Cardinals are counting on linebacker Dennis Gardeck to be able to recapture the pass-rushing effectiveness he flashed in 2020 before a major knee injury.
The Cardinals are counting on linebacker Dennis Gardeck to be able to recapture the pass-rushing effectiveness he flashed in 2020 before a major knee injury.

Math isn't Dennis Gardeck's top subject, but he's long understood that seven sacks in 93 snaps wasn't necessarily a repeatable accomplishment.

But while what Gardeck did back in 2020 -- before his ACL injury that slowed him all the way through 2021 – was eye-popping, it also showed why the linebacker could be more than just a Pro Bowl-caliber special teamer.

On a team that is desperate to prove it has pass-rush production, Gardeck seems primed to add up as many sacks as he can.

"In years past whatever they got from me it was nice to have," Gardeck told reporters. "I feel like there are expectations this year and I'm ready to rise to that challenge."

One reason Gardeck's 2020 work was necessary was the season-ending injury to Chandler Jones. Now, Jones simply plies his trade north, in Las Vegas. The Cardinals have their top sack man, Markus Golden, back. But beyond him, questions off the edge.

At least Gardeck has something on the resumé. Second-year man Victor Dimukje and rookies Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders do not.

When it comes to pass rushing and sacks, there are others who could "help that number significantly," coach Kliff Kingsbury said, such as Zaven Collins, Isaiah Simmons and linemen J.J. Watt and Zach Allen.

But it's the outside linebacking crew that will mostly be in the spotlight. It starts with Golden, a mystery right now after missing every practice since Aug. 1 with a toe issue and questions whether he is happy with his contract.

Kingsbury said he hopes Golden can return to practice next week and the Cardinals can "get something out of him" for the opener against the Chiefs.

"He's a dog," Gardeck said of Golden. "Not worried about him at all."

Then there is Gardeck, who hadn't taken a defensive snap in his career until Jones suffered his 2020 injury and a gem was uncovered.

"I joke around, coming in as a D-II (college) guy, they were just happy if I could tie my shoes," Gardeck said. "I had just a little bit higher expectations for myself as a football player who has been studying the game for a while.

"Now everyone else is catching up to my standard."

Gardeck played all last season, but he was clearly not the guy who was rushing the quarterback in 2020 and did not record a sack. That's changed noticeably. His performances in practices have shown him to be healthy, and Gardeck himself has acknowledged not only his physical comfort but the mental confidence that has returned with it.

Gardeck isn't making statistical predictions – "I want to know based on my production rather than guess on my production," he said – but if he can push toward double-digit sacks, along with Golden, the Cardinals will have a pass-rush foundation for defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

"The last time (Gardeck) was really healthy, for the number of snaps he had, his production was through the roof," Kingsbury said. "From what I have seen, going against those guys in Tennessee, he's got a chance to make some noise."

Gardeck isn't doing any math yet. When he does, he'll just start with one and go from there.

"It's been so long since I got home," Gardeck said. "I might just black out when I get my first sack. It's time."