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Karlos Dansby’s job description: make plays, lead, bring joy

Linebacker Karlos Dansby chats with assistant coach Freddie Kitchens during Arizona Cardinals OTAs in Tempe, May 24, 2017. (Photo: Adam Green/Arizona Sports)

TEMPE, Ariz. — When you talk to Karlos Dansby, there is a temptation to sit enraptured with a smile on your face and your head in your hands, losing track of the intended path of the interview.

Dansby’s voice is a melody. His words are catchphrase rhymes. The joy he finds in football’s most mundane moments is infectious.

“If you play it right, you play it light,” Dansby said after Tuesday’s OTA practice. “I try to stay prayed up and have fun; do my best and let God do the rest.”

It’s no secret why the Cardinals brought Dansby back for a third tour of duty. They wanted his leadership. They wanted his voice back in the locker room. They wanted that joie de vivre back on the field, but they also believe he can still help them at age 35.

Dansby had 114 combined tackles last season to lead Cincinnati and finish 20th in the NFL. He also had six passes defended, a sack and a fumble recovery. He played all 16 games for the fifth time in his last six seasons. He started seven.

“Everyone thinks we stop-gapped with Karlos Dansby and [safety] Antoine Bethea,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I think they both have a lot left.”

Dansby’s return helped ease the loss of Kevin Minter in free agency, but his importance is magnified after Deone Bucannon had ankle surgery, putting his availability for the start of the regular season in doubt. Dansby will be charged with shepherding first-round draft pick Haason Reddick through the laborious process of learning the defense, and possibly starting in Week 1.

Dansby is happy to fill that role.

“I wait for them to come to me,” he said. “I’m not going to press anything up on anybody, but if they come to me, I’m an open book. I’m going to give it to you. It’s up to you to take it.”

The Cardinals haven’t reached training camp yet, so Dansby doesn’t know what his role will be. He believes, however, that he can still be a three-down linebacker. When asked what his role would look like if he could design it, he rubbed his hands together at the thought of such license.

“I’m an all-around player. I’m not going to change anything,” he said. “I don’t know what people consider my strengths, but I’ll stay as consistent in my technique and my effort as I possibly can be and if I do that I’ll be able to make a lot of plays because I’ll be in position to make plays; I expect to be in position to make plays.

“If you stay on top of your keys and you study, you can go out there and have a lot of fun. That’s what I want to bring back to the guys.”

When Dansby returned for his second tour of duty with the Cardinals in 2013, he had his best season as a pro, recording 122 tackles (114 solos), 19 passes defended, four interceptions, a forced fumble and recovery and two TDs. He still believes he has something to prove, but the tenor of this return is different.

“This right here is just straight love,” he said. “When you’re in a place where you are appreciated and not just tolerated, it makes a difference. It allows you the opportunity to be great and I’m going to take full advantage of it.”

Dansby will turn 36 on Nov. 3. There is an undeniable biological reality contained in that fact, but retirement is something he hasn’t yet pondered.

“I’m going to play it until God tells me to do something different; until my job is done,” he said.

Dansby said God has not requested an audience with him yet, and he has not asked for one with God, either.

“No,” he said, laughing. “He’ll let me know. I’m not going to ruffle his feathers. I’m not going to try to dig too deep in it, but as soon as he let’s me know, as soon as he gives me the sign that it’s time to go, then I’ll go.”

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