Cardinals defensive end Rodney Gunter sacks Chiefs quarterback Aaron Murray for a safety during Saturday night's preseason game.
In the weeks following the Cardinals' selection of Rodney Gunter in the draft, his legend grew, because the young defensive end had an interesting story to tell.
He was a kid who didn't play football until his senior year of high school as he worked to help support his family. He had one college scholarship offer. His pre-draft workout with Cardinals defensive line coach Brentson Buckner was at a far-flung locale, with Buckner comparing his journey there to Nick Nolte finding Shaquille O'Neal in the movie 'Blue Chips.'
Gunter is an easy guy to root for because of his background, but opposing players don't care much for storylines on the
field. The fourth-round pick learned quickly on Saturday night he was a long way from Delaware State.
"My first series – first quarter, second quarter or whatever -- it was pretty fast," Gunter said. "I had to adjust in the second half. I had to play more fast and physical."
After the initial adjustment, Gunter equipped himself well. He finished with a pair of tackles in his first NFL action, including a highlight-reel sack of Chiefs third-string quarterback Aaron Murray for a safety.
Gunter was unblocked -- few sacks moving forward will come as easy -- but veteran defensive end Calais Campbell was still impressed with the crushing below Gunter delivered, swallowing Murray up in his arms as he drove him to the ground.
"He killed the quarterback," Campbell said. "That's the kind of intensity I love. On the sideline he was like a big kid. Big smile on his face. I said, 'Enjoy it. You always remember the first one.' Nothing better than a safety, too. That's the best way to do it. Even though it's preseason, that's a highlight he'll always have in his career."
While he has considerable potential, Gunter is one of many defensive linemen competing for playing time behind starters Campbell, Frostee Rucker and Corey Peters. There was no better example of the position group's depth than watching the action in the fourth quarter against the Chiefs.
While most of the other positions were being manned by rookies, the Cardinals' defensive line still featured Matt Shaughnessy, Ed Stinson and Alameda Ta'amu, three players who have already proven their ability to contribute in NFL games.
There are 10 defensive linemen on the roster, and there is not much fat to be trimmed as roster cutdowns loom in a couple weeks.
"It's competition across the board, and everybody has to fight," veteran defensive end Cory Redding said. "Young guys making plays, getting safeties. You have guys coming up and getting stops on second down, third down. You have guys coming off the ball and getting pressure. It's going to be a nice little battle."
The Cardinals lost mainstays Darnell Dockett and Dan Williams from the line this offseason, but with the new wave of players, there isn't expected to be a dropoff. If youngsters like Gunter continue to make big plays, the defensive line could be one of the Cardinals' biggest strengths in 2015.
"Our D-line is very special," Campbell said. "We have a lot of talent, guys that can be starters in the league that are going to be in our three-deep. We have guys that are fast, explosive, physical and smart. That's a deadly combination when you have all those things."