A year ago, Gardeck helped the Cardinals end a three-game losing streak with back-to-back big games at linebacker in Weeks 14 and 15. He had two sacks and a fumble recovery in a 26-7 road win over the Giants, followed by another two sacks in a 33-26 victory over the visiting Eagles.
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As the Cardinals attempt to snap another three-game skid, the special teams captain is expected to get more playing time on defense Sunday, January 2, when Arizona visits Dallas to take on the Cowboys.
Gardeck’s late surge in 2020 ended on a sour note when he suffered a season-ending ACL injury against the Eagles. Recovery from that injury sidelined him throughout training camp, and a hand injury landed him on injured reserve for the first three games this season.
Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph says Gardeck is “totally back now” and playing well when given the opportunity. And with linebackers Markus Golden and Devon Kennard still on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, there likely will be more opportunities for Gardeck in Dallas.
“I think he’s close to having a big game,” Joseph told reporters Thursday, December 30. “This guy, if he gets multiple opportunities, he will make some plays. He’s one of the young guys I’m excited to watch on Sunday with more opportunities. He’s fresh, he’s ready to go, and he wants a chance to prove again his worth to our football team.”
Big Challenge Coming vs. Cowboys
Gardeck made the most of his opportunities at linebacker last season, finishing with seven sacks, seven tackles for a loss and 10 QB hits while playing just 93 defensive snaps.
The two-time special teams captain has played 136 defensive snaps (11.3 per game) in 2021, with a season-high 20 snaps at linebacker in the Cardinals’ 33-22 road win over the Bears in Week 13.
Gardeck has five hurries and two QB hits this season, but he’s still seeking that first sack. And he knows getting to Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott won’t be easy.
“They’ve got great receivers, an incredible talent at quarterback, and a big, strong, physical offensive line,” Gardeck said on the “Big Red Rage” radio show and podcast Thursday, December 30. ” We’ve got our work cut out for us, but I trust Vance’s game plan, and we’re going to go out there and put up a fight.”
Despite their struggles in recent weeks, the Cardinals (10-5) remain confident they can turn things around, Gardeck said.
“There’s no panic in this football team,” he said. “I think that comes from the amount of trust we have in each other as players, as well as the coaching staff in getting us prepared and creating game plans for us to win.”
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‘It’s That Next-Man-Up Mentality’
While he’s known more for his play on special teams, Gardeck said he’s confident he can step in at linebacker when called upon. The undrafted free agent from the University of Sioux Falls saw his playing time increase last season after Chandler Jones suffered a season-ending biceps injury in Week 5.
In addition to Golden and Kennard, OL D.J. Humphries is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and won’t play against the Cowboys. Two other defensive starters — DE Jordan Phillips (knee) and CB Marco Wilson (shoulder) also will miss the game.
No matter how much he’s asked to play in Dallas, Gardeck said he’ll be ready.
“I think it can be exciting. It’s that next-man-up mentality,” he said. “There’s kind of a heightened sense of everybody’s got to step up, everybody’s got to do their job. I think, given our veteran leadership, this can be a rallying point rather than something to be timid (about) and tiptoe around.”
Cardinals Captain Prepared to ‘Prove His Worth’ vs. Cowboys