Arizona Cardinals linebacker [608x342]
Arizona Cardinals linebacker [608x342] (Credit: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A difficult decision Paxton DFA d by Dodgers

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Rob Rodriguez might sound like a broken record by now.

The Arizona Cardinals' outside linebackers coach has been repeating a version of the same mantra since players reported in April: Every rep is your rep. With eight outside linebackers on the roster heading into the mandatory minicamp next week, the Cardinals have had to employ ways to get everyone the reps they need. Since only two outside linebackers -- sometimes three in certain packages -- play at a time during team drills in OTAs, five or six aren't on the field on any given play.

That leads to Rodriguez stressing the need to get a rep any way possible, whether that's physically or mentally.

To veteran outside linebacker Dennis Gardeck, who started eight of the 17 games he played last season at outside linebacker, the message could come across as coachspeak, something players tune out over the years. But, he has learned that there was some truth in those words. Going through the calls in his head while watching it unfold in front of him has had legitimate value.

That's why he passed along the same message to Cardinals rookie Xavier Thomas, whose snaps in practice aren't as plentiful as for some of the veterans.

"There's a system of a thought process that you should go through on every snap and being able to go through that process, you don't have to be on the field to do that," Gardeck said. "You can get it in real time from the sideline.

"Being able to do that is important for everybody in the room."

Seven of the eight outside linebackers on the roster return from last season, and of those, only two of them didn't start a game.  

Zaven Collins described the outside linebackers room in its current iteration as "vast," with 105 possible combinations among them. It begs the question: Are there enough snaps for everyone?

Coach Jonathan Gannon was absolute in his answer: There are enough, he said. Getting those reps isn't just a system of who's up next. Gannon said the outside linebackers are competing for those snaps in practice.

Thus far, BJ Ojulari has been pleased with the system in place.

"I feel like we do a good job of having a rotation and knowing who has the best attributes for certain personnels, who needs to be on the field for goal line, who's the bigger guy who can move inside sometimes," Ojulari said. "So, I think we all have something different about us that helps contribute to the team."

Gannon prefers having a rotation of outside linebackers with an array of skill sets, giving defensive coordinator Nick Rallis options depending on the situation. 

"I think it's a way that if you have a jersey on game day, how are you helping us win?" Gannon said. "I do think that if you play two guys 70 snaps a game, they're not their best version of themselves at the end of the game when you typically need those guys.

"So, I think it keeps them fresh and then it allows us with different guys to do some different things when we want to do them. So, having some guys with multiple skill sets, that helps, too."

When Rodriguez isn't preaching about reps, he's talking about versatility.

Arizona's current outside linebackers range from 6 feet to 6-4 and from 232 pounds to 267 pounds, and although all can rush the passer, each has his own strengths. Collins, for example, has been dropping into coverage quite a bit this offseason, and then teaching his teammates how to improve their coverage skills.

He and Gardeck have been models of versatility, with each playing six different positions during OTAs, Collins said.

The hope is that having a variety of sizes and skills rotating through will give the Cardinals an assortment of advantages, from fresh legs to formations.

"It keeps us fresh; it keeps the offense on their toes," Ojulari said. "[The defenses] can't get a certain routine or rhythm of certain guy when different guys can play Jack, Sam, move inside and do all kinds of things."