Cardinals linebacker Dennis Gardeck has been down this road before, especially after suffering a torn right ACL in his knee during his senior year of high school.
Gardeck emerged from being a special-teams dynamo last season with 7.0 sacks in only 93 defensive snaps, but then had his season cut short when he tore that same ACL in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, Gardeck has been working tirelessly to get back on the field as soon as he can. He’s hitting his rehab so hard, there are times when he has to be told to dial things back a bit.
"I'm a little bit of a head case, as you might imagine," he told the team website (AZCardinals.com). “It's that feeling of, 'I should have done more' that kind of drives me. I always feel I need to do the most. (The training staff) are all like, 'Doing the most is not what is beneficial right now. It's doing what's right for your knee.'"
The Cardinals were so confident with what they saw from Gardeck last season and in how they believed he would handle the rehab that when his rookie contract expired, they tendered him as a restricted free agent at the second-round compensation level of $3.384 million.
When asked whether Gardeck might be back in time for the starting of training camp, head coach Kliff Kingsbury said, “I wouldn't put anything past Dennis. He looks great and it sounds like he is ahead of schedule by all accounts, so we will see how he feels going into training camp. If he's not ready for the start, I'd expect him to be ready soon thereafter."
For Gardeck’s part, he can’t wait to get back on the field and build off what he accomplished last season.
He said, "There is always that question when you're going in practice, going against our starting offensive line and you're like, 'Man I'm ready to be out there and doing those things, maybe it's different on game day, maybe I'm wrong, maybe I'm overconfident.' You see it all the time with guys in the league – their ego is bigger than their play. I've never wanted to be that way. So it was, trust the timing, maybe you're not ready for it yet.
"Part of it was cool to see all the hard work pay off, but also it was such a small snap count, such a limited number of reps. I am aware it's a little skewed. I look forward to putting more out there."
Gardeck concluded, "It was a great year. Yeah, it was cut a little bit short, but they always say, it's not if you're going to get hurt in football, it's when you're going to get hurt. I feel like I can lay my head on the pillow at night knowing I did everything I could."