Getting his wind back: Myjai Sanders eyeing return to Cardinals pass rush

Oct 12, 2023, 5:10 PM | Updated: Oct 13, 2023, 6:04 am

Myjai Sanders celebrates...

Myjai Sanders #41 of the Arizona Cardinals celebrates after recovering a fumble during the second quarter in the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field At Mile High on December 18, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)

TEMPE — Arizona Cardinals outside linebacker Myjai Sanders is that much closer to returning to action after the team designated him to return on Thursday.

Having not been able to put in any practice reps since he went on the IR on Aug. 31, being back alongside his teammates was undoubtedly a great feeling for the linebacker.

His return to action isn’t complete, though.

With the team designating Sanders to return on Thursday, his three-week practice window officially began.

Sanders, however, isn’t looking to spend any more time watching from the sideline than he has to.

“I’m just ready to come back and take on my role and just be the best player I can be,” the linebacker said after his first regular season practice of 2023. “Any way I can get in or fit in to be able to play right now and get back on the field and get activated this week, that’s what I’m doing.

“When I came back practicing today, I almost had all the reps,” he added. “It was fun getting my wind back and just being able to run and actually pass rush again. I’m just loving being back and taking all my meetings day by day.”

But for all the good feelings of being back in the mix, Sanders isn’t oblivious to the fact that he’s got to get up to speed in a hurry if he wants any chance of getting the green light sooner rather than later.

That goes beyond just getting back into football shape, too, with the mental side of things equally as important to nail down for the second-year player.

“It’s all a learning thing,” Sanders said. “You can’t just expect to get back on the field without learning inside the weight room or the classrooms. You got to do all the things that comes back to joining back on the team that one day.”

Sanders’ expected return in the near future gives defensive coordinator Nick Rallis yet another option for his pass-rushing rotation led by Dennis Gardeck and Zaven Collins. And after recording three sacks in a limited showing as a rookie, Sanders is champing at the bit to see that number improve in Year 2.

But with addition comes subtraction. Sanders’ snaps are going to have to come from somewhere.

Given their play this season, the roles of Gardeck, Collins and Dimukeje seem set outside of the occasional tweak or two.

Gardeck paces the team in sacks (four) and tackles for loss (five), while Dimukeje and Collins each have 2.5 sacks and three and two tackles for loss, respectively, through five games played. The latter also has one interception.

From there, however, the OLB production tapers off. Fellow second-year pro Cameron Thomas is seeing an uptick in defensive snaps (38%) from his rookie season (21%), though has just two tackles for loss to show for it.

Jesse Luketa is seeing both a similar jump in reps with even fewer results in addition to being utilized as a fullback, while rookie BJ Ojulari is still slowly getting worked in after missing training camp with a knee issue.

“That’s above my pay grade,” Collins said Thursday when asked how snaps could be divvied up upon Sanders’ return. “Obviously when you have a bunch of guys that are able to do a lot of things, it’s not a bad thing. The more you’re able to do for the team.

“Myjai’s an unreal pass rusher. Bendy, fast, quick movements. It can be a week-to-week thing. What’s your role this week? Can this tackle move well? Can this guard move well? … It’s kind of having an arsenal. That’s kind of what we do.”

In a defense that runs on rotations, the opportunity is there for Sanders, who feels the freedom of operating in Rallis’ defense, to contribute right away once activated.

“The best thing coach tells us is to go out there and hunt. Just be the best version of you,” Sanders said. “He doesn’t really try to make people be different players or try to make you do something different than you know how to do.

“It’s been fun watching my teammates go out there and get after it,” he added. “And then watching Nick and how he runs his defense and when I come back obviously trying to find a role inside of the defense to make myself do something this year. Since they got here, we’re in the right direction for sure.”

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