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Dennis Gardeck Rates High As Cardinals' Success Story

Two sacks in linebacker's first defensive work puts former UDFA in spotlight

LB Dennis Gardeck celebrates the second of his two sacks against the Jets last weekend.
LB Dennis Gardeck celebrates the second of his two sacks against the Jets last weekend.

Patrick Peterson had just given his ratings to each of teammate Dennis Gardeck's sack celebrations in New York.

Gardeck's second, one the outside linebacker called “hitting the strobe,” earned him a 7. The first, "turn the kona," wasn't Peterson's favorite. That got a 3.

As always, Gardeck found a way to make it work.

"That's a 10 out of two sacks," Gardeck said with a smile. "I feel 10 out of 10, I did my job."

All Gardeck wants to do is his job. Most of the time, that's special teams, a spot for which he was a Pro Bowl alternate last season. Against the Jets – and going forward – it's helping also as a pass rusher after Chandler Jones was lost for the season with a biceps injury.

The 10 snaps Gardeck had in New York on defense were the first non-special teams snaps of his career, which was born in 2018 as an unlikely undrafted rookie out of the University of Sioux Falls. He was admittedly nervous, those feelings spilling out when he dumped Jets QB Joe Flacco not once but twice.

"Not going to lie, I kind of blacked out a little bit" after the first sack, Gardeck admitted.

"I'm an emotional guy," he added. "There's no controlling them."

But that's the kind of person and player the Cardinals want around, and why they kept him. Coach Kliff Kingsbury calls him a "phenomenal story," even if he's a guy who can screw up scout team looks by playing so over the top on the 'look' defense.

That his path was unusual not only makes Gardeck's story, it makes Gardeck. He went to West Virginia State, played his last year at Sioux Falls. Most certainly did not expect to be an Arizona Cardinal.

"The goal was never to play professionally, it was to pay for school.," Gardeck said. "I wanted to see how far we can take this."

Eventually, he did have higher hopes, but only to play in the arena league or maybe another country, to pull in a paycheck from the sport he loves so much.

"It doesn't matter where you come from," Peterson said. "The game is the game. If you have love and passion for the game, with energy and the tenacity, everything will take care of itself. And Dennis plays with those intangibles. Dennis is just a ballplayer.

"If Dennis didn't go to college and was on the couch, I believe he could still make it in this league because of his mindset, his mentality. He's a grinder. He's a dog."

Gardeck is also where he wants to be. At 6-foot and 232 pounds, Gardeck is undersized for a player on the edge, the reason the Cardinals used him at inside linebacker his first two seasons. But with the additions of De'Vondre Campbell and Isaiah Simmons, Gardeck was moved back outside, a decision about which he acknowledged he was "stoked."

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said he knew Gardeck preferred to be out there, and the flashes he showed in New York is what he had done since the beginning of training camp.

But Gardeck also understands his role. He knows he's not going to be the obvious answer to replace Jones. He knows the biggest benefit he gives to the Cardinals is on special teams, and that isn't going to change even with his big day.

There isn't going to be any boasting. If anything, Gardeck good-naturedly puts himself down, even as a reporter was asking how he frequently comes across as self-depreciating.

"I'm glad you kind of explained it a little bit more, self-deprecating is a big one for me," Gardeck said, steering right into the concept. "Who am I, at the end of the day? I think that's kind of where I came from. Even back in high school, I was never 'The Guy.'

"You can think what you want about me. I'm just going to have fun, play football, celebrate how I celebrate -- whether it's a 7 or a 3."

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