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Dennis Gardeck Helps Cardinals Pass Rush Off To Good Start

Russell Wilson harassed  by Nick Rallis' new defense

Linebacker Dennis Gardeck rushes the passer on Friday night.
Linebacker Dennis Gardeck rushes the passer on Friday night.

Linebacker Dennis Gardeck entered Friday's game against the Broncos with zero expectations yet managed to exceed them.

"For preseason game one, that's kind of what you expect," Gardeck said. "You have no expectations. Let's go out, we kept the game plan simple. Let's go out there and establish an identity that's going to be physical, having effort on every single play."

Gardeck sacked Russell Wilson and forced a fumble, although it was recovered by the Broncos QB. The performance from the edge linebacker brought back shades of 2020, the best season in his six-year NFL career. That season, Gardeck had seven sacks, ten QB hits, nine tackles, and a fumble recovery, all in just 93 defensive snaps.

But near the end of the season Gardeck tore his ACL, and he's been working to get back to form since.

"(Linebackers coach) Rob Rodriguez has got me back rushing in a new way and now I have a game plan in my head," Gardeck said. "Being able to rush like that and not just try to overwhelm them with speed and then react to whatever happens has been good for me."

Jonathan Gannon has described Gardeck as the ultimate pro, and seeing the linebacker come up with a big hit stood out to the head coach.

"We gave up an explosive and he got us out of it with a sack on second down," Gannon said. "Sacks are really good on first and second because that gets them behind the sticks."

Gannon added that Gardeck is going to be an asset to the defense that prides itself on physicality. In the midst of a game, it can be challenging to focus on the minor details, but those details were able to get Gardeck into the backfield.

"I wasn't even looking for a sack," Gardeck said. "Being able to think consciously in those moments of the game and thinking let's go back to this technique and maintain throughout the ups and downs of a game."

Just like a roller coaster, there were ups and downs in the Cardinals 18-17 win over Denver, going all the way until the last drive of the game. But the first celebration of the night was after Gardeck's sack.

"It's called hitting the strobe," Gardeck said "Joe Walker was a teammate that was a techno junkie and he got me hardcore into that type of music."

Gardeck was at the forefront of a pass rush -- a unit that carried questions coming into camp -- that impressed against the Broncos and made life difficult for quarterback Russell Wilson.

"It was amazing to finally let it rip (against another team)," said linebacker Jesse Luketa, who clobbered Wilson once as he released a pass. "Finally not having to worry about staying clear of the quarterback, I was ecstatic. We want to play hard-nosed football, smack in the mouth all four quarters."

While Gardeck and Zaven Collins played only a few series with the first unit, Luketa and Cameron Thomas had multiple reps, even taking the field for some of the fourth quarter.

"Those extra reps are golden," Luketa said. "This is the time of the season where you want to refine your craft and find your tools and continue stacking the days. Every single rep is pivotal."

For both Luketa and Gardeck, there isn't a statistical goal they want to hit as the season progresses. They want to showcase their skills and help out the defense.

"JG hit it early in one of our first meetings about getting everything that we can in our favor," Gardeck said. "There's so many things that are uncontrollable. If we can repeatedly get everything we can in our favor, I think that will set us up for a great year."

The top images taken by the Cardinals team photographer during the 2023 Week 1 preseason game against Denver, presented by Earnhardt Auto Centers.

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