Arizona Cardinals OLB Dennis Gardeck has some 'new tools in the belt' as he embraces expanded role – The Arizona Republic

Five years ago, the expectations weren’t all that high for Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck, then an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Sioux Falls (S.D.).
“I joke around with the guys and tell them coming in as a D2 guy, they were just happy I could tie my shoes,” Gardeck said. “I had just a little bit higher expectations for myself coming in as a football player and studying the game for a while. Now I feel like everybody else is kind of catching up to my standards and I’m going to maintain the same standard for myself.”
Flash forward to this season and the two-time team captain and Pro Bowl alternate has a far more clearly defined role with the team that first took a chance on him. From the way things have been shaping up, it’s becoming obvious he’s going to get the first shot at replacing Chandler Jones as the starting outside linebacker opposite Markus Golden.
“I think in years past it was whatever they got from me was nice to have,” Gardeck said. “I feel like there’s some expectations this year and I’m ready to rise to that challenge. I’ve always had high expectations for myself.”
The Cardinals always knew they had a special teams ace in Gardeck, who plays the game with a fiery passion and has excelled dramatically on punt and kickoff teams with his helter-skelter recklessness. But it wasn’t until Jones went down with a biceps injury during the first third of the 2020 season that Gardeck demonstrated what he could do as a part-time, regular member of the defense.
In just 97 total snaps, Gardeck managed to rack up seven sacks as the Cardinals finished tied for fourth overall that season with 48 sacks. It was astonishing. Gardeck suffered a torn ACL toward the end of the year and wasn’t the same player last season as he rehabbed his way back.
Ask coach Kliff Kingsbury, though, if Gardeck is capable of a double-digit-sack season and he won’t dispute the notion.
“The last time he was really healthy, he did,” Kingsbury said. “With the number of snaps he had, the production was through the roof and from what I’ve seen going against our guys and in Tennessee (during a joint practice with the Titans), he’s got a chance to make some noise.”
Gardeck acknowledged he “cashed out” in 2020 due to his hard work and continuing attention to improving his pass-rushing moves. Just don’t ask him to predict what kind of numbers he could tally this season. Gardeck will do his best and let the results speak for themselves.
“We’ll see how much I’ve invested by kind of what happens,” he said. “I’d rather know all the work I’ve put in through my production than guess production based on what I’ve put in.”
In other words, just wait for it.
Gardeck, though, has added boxing to his offseason training routine. A couple teammates joined him, including fellow pass rusher Victor Dimukeje, and rookie third-round picks Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders have both said they might incorporate boxing into their workouts as well.
Gardeck says it sharpens the “eyes, hands, hips and feet” and helps improve reaction time, adding, “The more I’ve been around football, the more I see it show up in other things.”
Arizona will rely on its four outside linebackers, along with defensive ends J.J. Watt and Zach Allen as well as inside linebackers Zaven Collins and Isaiah Simmons and others to generate a team pass rush to help offset the loss of Jones, who left this offseason to sign with the Raiders as a free agent.
“There’s a bunch of guys,” Kingsbury said. “I think Zaven has a real natural skill set of rushing the passer coming from where he’s at. I think Isaiah with his length and speed. Obviously, a healthy J.J. (Watt) would help that number significantly and Zach Allen’s a guy that’s come a long way. He’s really played at a high level this camp, he’s healthy and he’s put on some weight and has been really disruptive so far this camp.”
With the aggressiveness of coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense and the speed throughout the lineup, Gardeck thinks anything is possible in 2022. He also offered his opinion on some of his fellow outside linebackers, starting with Golden, who has missed multiple days now with a toe injury.
“He’s a dog. I’m not worried about him,” Gardeck said.
As for the development of Thomas and Sanders and how they seemed to make the most of their opportunities in Arizona’s last preseason game last weekend in Nashville, Gardeck said he was excited about what he has seen from each of them.
“Their growth and opportunities early on are going to make them better players,” he said. “It’ll be fun to watch them, be able to help them, coach them up, love on them through the hard times. It’s a football season so there’s going to be ups and downs and just to be able to ride it out with them, it’s going to be fun.”
Related: Cardinals’ veterans, starters preparing for NFL season opener
Regarding Dimukeje, the Cardinals’ second-year pro from Duke, Gardeck has been impressed with his speed.
“He’s a guy that I kind of noticed early on and was like, ‘This guy is going to be a dude,’ “ Gardeck said. “He took his offseason incredibly serious. He did some boxing with me but that was after all the work he had already put in. He’s got a cool story, man. I’m excited to watch him, be able to cash out all that hard work he’s put in, and I’m really proud to be in the linebacker room with him.”
Ever the competitor, Gardeck wasn’t about to share any secrets of the trade that he thinks has made him a better pass rusher this year – his first with what figures to be a prominent role in the Cardinals’ starting defense.
“I’m not going to give away any secrets in my pass rush game,” he said, “but just being able to play fast and being able to react at that point with some new tools in the belt and we’ll see how they look out there.”
Read more: Eno Benjamin’s confidence high as Cardinals’ season nears
*The Cardinals have signed safety Jalen Thompson to a three-year contract extension which keeps him on the roster through the 2025 season.
Thompson, who led the team last season with 121 tackles, was entering the final year of his contract on a deal that was going to pay him $2.5 million. Financial terms of his new deal were not immediately available.
Thompson, 24, was selected in the fifth round of the 2019 supplemental draft out of Washington State. He is the only player on an active NFL roster who entered the league through the supplemental draft. 
In addition to his 121 tackles, which were the second-most among all NFL defensive backs in 2021, Thompson also had three interceptions, seven passes defended and three tackles for loss. In 37 career games, he has 197 tackles, four interceptions and 11 passes defended.
*The Cardinals signed defensive lineman Andrew Brown to the practice squad. Brown, 26, has played in 23 career games with the Chargers and Bengals and has 18 tackles, one sack, three quarterback hits and one tackle for loss. He was a fifth-round pick out of Virginia in 2018 by the Bengals.
Have an opinion on the Arizona Cardinals? Reach McManaman at and follow him on Twitter @azbobbymac. Listen to him live on Fox Sports 910-AM every Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 on Calling All Sports with Roc and Manuch. 
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