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From The Edge, Cardinals Lean On Their 'Dawgs' 

Outside linebacker corps impresses in opener with wide rotation

Outside linebackers Victor Dimukeje (52), Dennis Gardeck (45) and BJ Ojulari (18) celebrate a play Sunday in Washington.
Outside linebackers Victor Dimukeje (52), Dennis Gardeck (45) and BJ Ojulari (18) celebrate a play Sunday in Washington.

The shirts were a gift from wide receiver Zach Pascal to the entire roster, but the one-word message emblazoned on them -- "Dawgs" -- could have been made with the Cardinals' outside linebackers in mind.

That's how Dennis Gardeck sees it, at least, a feeling he had long before the group made everyone take notice in Sunday's opener at Washington.

"It's a group that has a chip on their shoulder and wants to prove something," Gardeck said. "We're all hunting. We're all in this together and we're all confident with whoever's out there."

The defense made its target Commanders quarterback Sam Howell, and despite not coming away with the win, the edge rushers made their presence known. The unit finished with three of the team's six sacks, two of the seven pass deflections, two forced fumbles, and an interception.

Coach Jonathan Gannon referred to Gardeck as the "ultimate pro," and it showed against Washington. The newly named captain had two sacks, including a strip-sack that Cam Thomas scooped up and scored for the Cardinals' sole touchdown.

Whether it was Thomas, Gardeck, or Zaven Collins, who finished with an interception and fumble recovery, all of the active outside linebackers saw the field on a rotating basis, and they landed their name on the stat sheets.

That's not just something Gannon hopes for. It's what he expects from the front seven.

"You want those big guys fresh, and you want to rotate them," Gannon said. "If they have a jersey on game day, they have to serve a role and a purpose."

Gannon said that normally it takes time for a team to hit their stride in terms of how they rotate their players per snaps and felt they executed their plan.

Collins was on the field for 42 total snaps, followed by Gardeck's 28, Thomas' 26, and Victor Dimukeje's 25.

"Nobody's worried about anything dropping off with X, Y, or Z in the game," Gardeck said.

"We played loose, we played free," Collins said after the game. "Our motto today was 'motor and violence' and be around the ball, hit the ball, good things happen."

It's fair to say that Gardeck's "Hitting the strobe" sack celebration is already in midseason form. Gannon also noted that he liked how the defense was flying around and making the most of meaningful snaps. Recently acquired safety K'Von Wallace stepped up, ending the game with seven tackles and two pass deflections.

Improvements are needed, however. Gannon eyed the penalties, highlighting the early drive that featured three penalties for 67 yards, a near fight, and a touchdown scored by the Commanders.

"You get paid to win games, so that's definitely still close to our minds," Gardeck said. "Being able to flush it and get better from it is our focus."

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

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