No rehab, no problem: Cardinals’ Dennis Gardeck ‘able to breathe’ again

Mar 16, 2022, 4:58 PM | Updated: Mar 21, 2022, 1:15 pm

Dennis Gardeck #45 of the Arizona Cardinals in action against Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giant...

Dennis Gardeck #45 of the Arizona Cardinals in action against Daniel Jones #8 of the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on December 13, 2020 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Cardinals defeated the Giants 26-7. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Wednesday marked a big day in outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck’s NFL career.

From working at McDonalds while playing Division II ball to receiving a three-year deal this offseason from the Arizona Cardinals, Gardeck’s NFL path has been unlike most athletes in his position.

There was a moment, however, when Gardeck’s new contract may not have been in the cards thanks to a torn ACL suffered in 2020.

But a ton of rehab and 14 games in 2021 later and the linebacker feels like he’s getting back to form.

“It’s something I didn’t really notice was happening until now — I’m kind of able to breathe,” Gardeck said Wednesday. “I didn’t realize how much I was holding my breath and kind of gritting my teeth through last year. Obviously, I saw that ACL as a huge test for me. ‘How bad do you want it? How much do you love football?’ I think an injury really questions that.

‘Are you willing to put in the work with that sense of urgency like it is the two-minute drill of the Super Bowl? Are you able to do that kind of far removed from that kind of pressure?’ … So I took it as a challenge and I was kind of in a fight-or-flight mode for that entire year. Being able to take a breath. I’m excited to get back to my old self.”

Before going down with his injury in 2020, Gardeck, who was primarily a special teamer, had taken a noticeable step in place of an injured Chandler Jones. Following Jones’ season-ending biceps injury in Week 5, Gardeck caught fire to the tune of seven sacks, seven tackles for loss and 10 QB hits over a 10-game span. Then came the ACL tear in Week 16, derailing the momentum the linebacker had garnered.

With Jones now headed to the Las Vegas Raiders, Arizona is hoping Gardeck can return to that form as the team continues to add to the roster this free agency.

And despite recording just 23 tackles and four QB hits in 2021, Gardeck remains confident in his approach. Having a full offseason to focus solely on football instead of rehab doesn’t hurt, either.

“It’s about paying the system and about trusting the process,” Gardeck said. “I think sacks come in bunches. … So even though production was down last year — I didn’t have a single sack — I’m one rep closer to my next sack.

“So continuing to push through that, to stay consistent, to not panic and try to freak out and try to be a superhero when I do get my plays. I think it’s important to execute your role in the defense each and every play. And then good things follow.”

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No rehab, no problem: Cardinals’ Dennis Gardeck ‘able to breathe’ again