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Dennis Gardeck Is Only Himself, Which Is Exactly Who The Cardinals Want

Linebacker in many ways is prototype of what coaches seek

Linebacker Dennis Gardeck has become a favorite of three different coaching staffs in his tenure with the Cardinals.
Linebacker Dennis Gardeck has become a favorite of three different coaching staffs in his tenure with the Cardinals.

In one of the first times Dennis Gardeck got to meet with his new defensive coordinator, Nick Rallis, the linebacker had a simple goal.

Gardeck sought how the new staff would use him, not because he was clamoring for more defensive snaps, but because he wanted to tailor his offseason training to whatever role Rallis – Gardeck's third defensive coordinator in six NFL seasons – decided upon.

"He was like, 'Our number one thing is adaptability' and I was like, 'What the (expletive) does that mean?'" Gardeck recalled with a grin. "It's like, 'Cool, I can be adaptable, you could put me here, you could put me there, you could put me off the ball, I'm just trying to figure out how to train, Coach.'"

However Gardeck's first impressions came across, they were positive. As was every other impression Gardeck left with coach Jonathan Gannon and Rallis.

Whether it was Steve Wilks when Gardeck was an undrafted rookie in 2018, or Kliff Kingsbury in 2019, or Gannon this past spring, Gardeck has won over them all. When Gannon talks about the kind of player he wants on his teams, it's hard not to picture a guy who was already here.

Rallis rattles off the traits with which Gardeck caught the coaches' collective attention. Work ethic. Commitment to being the best player he can be, whether it is through video study, body recovery, training, knowledge. His personality is upbeat, he brings energy to practice every day, and leads by both word and example.

"He also has a high level of intelligence, especially at that position," Rallis said. "Normally you don't have guys who see the whole picture as well as he does. He'll be the first one to tell me when I mess something up because he can catch it. That speaks to his intelligence. And his play, he produces in what we ask him to do. He's like the perfect player (for us)."

Such is a notion Gardeck dismisses. He may fit what the Gannon-led Cardinals want to be, but it isn't because he has worked to be that.

"The game is too hard to be anything other than yourself," Gardeck said. "It's too hard and too long of a season to be anything but who you really are.

"I try to teach that to the young guys as early on as possible. I kind of fell into it too, like 'I need to be an NFL football player now.' No. I'm here because of what I did, and I'm going to stay here because of what I'm doing. Grow and develop yes, but anything outside of who I am you can't waste and time or energy on."

Gardeck produces tangibles too. In 384 defensive snaps – he trails Zaven Collins, who leads all the rotating Cardinals edge rushers in snaps, by 99 – Gardeck leads the Cardinals in sacks (5), QB hits (12), QB pressures (16), QB hurries (5) and QB knockdowns (6), according to Pro Football Reference.

He is a captain through his special teams play, which was the reason he made the team originally in 2018 – current special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers has also been around since 2018 – and Gardeck remains a vital special teams cog.

"Even today he practices and plays like someone is going to tap him on the shoulder and say, 'Hey bring your iPad and your playbook,'" Rodgers said. "He's never lost that."

Gardeck, who has a year left on a three-year extension he signed before 2022, figures to be part of GM Monti Ossenfort's plans going forward. But he acknowledges – being who he is, of course – that UDFA mentality remains.

He lets his fiancée know that the couple have "to be ready to adjust on the fly" because there are no guarantees when you are on an NFL roster, no matter how sturdy your seat is at the time or what kind of impression you have left.

Then again, it seems that no matter what changes the Cardinals have gone through, Gardeck always proves himself invaluable.

"We're lucky we got to inherit him," Rallis said. "I'm happy he's here."

Images of the Cardinals practicing at the Dignity Health Sports Complex before the Week 15 regular season matchup against the San Francisco 49ers