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Dennis the Menace and Zeke the Freak

Arizona Cardinals v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Cardinals’ special teams’ coordinator Jeff Rodgers did a fabulous job this past season in improving the unit’s performance from the worst in the NFL in 2017 to 5th best in 2018.

Two of the main reasons why were undrafted rookie free agents Dennis Gardeck (Sioux Falls) and Zeke Turner (Washington), who combined for 23 tackles and punt block TD.

Down the stretch last year, I was hoping that the coaches would play Gardeck and Turner as the ILB tandem in their defense—-but it never happened.

Gardeck caught my attention in the first pre-season game when at MIKE LB he recorded 5 tackles in the second half versus the Chargers, and his superb TD saving tackle on QB Nik Simonek three yards from the goal line sealed the Cardinals’ 24-17 victory.

In the final pre-season game, Zeke Turner pretty much caught every Cardinals’ fan’s attention when he got extensive minutes at WILL LB and cashed in with 10 tackles and 1 sack.

In light of that stunning performance, it was mind-boggling, especially in light of the team’s struggles at ILB, that Turner was never tried there during the regular season.

For a team that has had its struggles with tackling, Gardeck and Turner are bright lights.

Both of them are ballers and both of them relish the art of tackling.

Which leads me to the point of this article—-what if?

What if the Cardinals’ new defensive coordinator, Vance Joseph, gives Dennis Gardeck and Zeke Turner the opportunity to compete for and possibly win the 34 SILB and 34 WILB positions?

The UFA inside linebacker that Seth Cox and I and many of you have been coveting is C.J. Mosely of the Ravens. And by all means we hope the Cardinals sign him.

But, whether they can sign Mosely or not, when I did a comparison of Gardeck’s and Mosely’s measurables, here is what I discovered:

Height: Gardeck (6.04), Mosely (6.16)

Weight: Gardeck: 242, Mosely: 238

40 Time: Gardeck: 4.57, Mosely: 4.63

3 Cone: Gardeck: 7.35, Mosely: 7.30

225 Bench: Gardeck: 31, Mosely: 21

Vertical Jump: Gardeck: 36.5:, Mosely: 35”

Broad Jump: Gardeck: 10’ 6”, Mosely: 9’ 10”

What the comparison suggests is that Dennis Gardeck and C.J. Mosely are similar athletes in terms of size, speed and explosiveness.

Of course, Mosely is an experienced Pro Bowl quality ILB, and Gardeck is now learning to play inside, as he was an edge player in college.

But, still...

Could the Cardinals already have a diamond in the rough at SILB?

There are two main things that excite me about Gardeck’s chances...(1) he loves to to tackle (420 tackles at West Virginia St. and Soiux Falls) and (2) he is adept at getting to the QB (46 career sacks). The question is—-can he make quick reads and hold up well in pass coverage? Gardeck strikes me as the kind of athlete and competitor who can and who will, given the opportunity.

When I started wondering whom I should compare Zeke Turner to, as a candidate for 34 WILB, I asked myself, who was the best Cardinal to play that position? Aha, of course, Daryl Washington. And I immediately thought, no way can Turner measure up with D-Wash.

However...check this out:

Height: Turner: 6.2, Washington: 6.2

Weight: Turner: 214, Washington: 230

40 Time: Turner: 4.65, Washington: 4.65

3 Cone: Turner: 6.95, Washington: 7.07

225 Bench: Turner: 19, Washington: 17

Vertical Jump: Turner: 30.5”, Washington 31”

Broad Jump: Turner: 9’ 5”, Washington: 9’ 6”

WAY!

The one disparity is D-Wash being 16 pounds heavier—-but Turner can easily put on another 10-14 pounds of muscle weight. After that, we are basically looking at two very similar athletes in terms of height, speed and explosiveness.

Interesting too that Turner out bench pressed D-Wash despite being 16 pounds lighter.

Quite frankly, when Turner was all over the field, plugging holes and chasing the ball while making his 10 tackles and 1 sack versus the Broncos I had flashbacks to D-Wash. I hadn’t see any Cardinal ILB as explosive in recent years.

I think that if Turner is given a fair chance to compete for the 34 WILB position, he can win that job and thrive. Again, as is the case with Gardeck, Turner will have to show that he can make his reads quickly and that he is an asset in pass coverage. Having played in the vaunted secondary at Washington, Turner is well versed in the art and the techniques.

What if...?

Should the Cardinals and their fans be excited about Gardeck’s and Turner’s prospects?

In addition, I would be remiss if I left out Joe Walker—-whose numbers are actually the most impressive of the three.

Walker was a high school star in Southern California who was not offered any Division 1 scholarships. His senior year, he tore his labrom and had surgery to repair it.—-same thing that happened to TE Jace Amaro, his 2nd season with the Jets.

Walker enrolled in a junior college, sat out a year doing rehab, then was a 1st team Junior College All-American at ILB, which prompted the Oregon Ducks to offer him a scholarship.

Walker had a very good career at Oregon leading the Ducks in tackles his senior year with 87.

He was not, however, invited to the Combine—-but here were his pro day numbers and how they would have compared to the linebackers’ numbers at the Combine:

At 6-2, 236

40 Time: 4.56 (5th)

3 Cone: 6.81 (2nd)

225 Bench: 23 (3rd)

Vertical Jump: 37.5” (3rd)

Broad Jump: 10’ 4” (4th)

Top 5 in all categories. Notice the 4.56 speed and 6.81 3 cone quickness.

Interestingly, Walker was drafted by the Eagles with the 251st pick of the 2016 NFL Draft...a pick the Eagles obtained from the Cardinals in the Matt Barkley trade.

Walker was meant to be a Cardinal all along.

What Walker’s numbers suggest to me is that he could be a factor at both inside LB spots in the 34. He played in the 43 in Philly and last year in Arizona, where he was better suited to play WOLB. The switch to the 34 should be a boon for Joe Walker, as the 34 suits his skills very well working in a tandem on the inside.

Yes, the Cardinals have Dennis the Menace and Zeke the Freak...

But, let’s not forget about Joe the Pato.

Add Walker’s 9 combined special teams’ tackles (7 solo) to Gardeck’s 7 (7 solo) and Turner’s 16 (13 solos) and this is one of the main reasons why the Cardinals kick coverages were in the top 5 of the NFL.

Now—-can the Cardinals integrate them into their 34 defense?

They say tackling is contagious...and the Cardinals have the 32nd worst run defense to turn around in 2019. Time to get busy ballin’ like the Menace, the Freak and the Pato.