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Gridiron flashback (2004): Karlos Dansby’s rookie training camp in the NFL

This feature on Arizona Cardinals rookie linebacker Karlos Dansby, an Auburn University alum, appeared in the Arizona Daily Sun in August 2004.

EAGER TO IMPROVE

By Ed Odeven

There are no guarantees in the National Football League. Jobs are always on the line. Rookies and seasoned veterans, even Pro Bowlers, must continuously prove themselves.

Karlos Dansby is a perfect example of this.

Selected by the Arizona Cardinals as the first pick of the second round in the 2004 NFL Draft, Dansby arrived in Tempe with terrific credentials: He was a Butkus Award semifinalist as a senior at Auburn; he collected 218 tackles in 36 collegiate games; and he was one of the SEC’s top linebackers after switching from strong safety to outside linebacker as a sophomore.

Even so, Cardinals head coach Dennis Green is not just going to give a starting job to Dansby. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound rookie begins his NFL career from the bottom — think of it as an entry-level job. For now, he’s a reserve linebacker, playing on the second-team unit behind strong-side starter Gerald Hayes. Dansby will also see time on the Cardinals’ special teams units.

“He’s very hungry,” Cardinals receiver Nathan Poole said of Dansby after Tuesday’s afternoon workout at the Skydome. “For a coach to say you’re going to get playing time, you are going to have to stay hungry, anyway, to stay on your Ps and Qs. … I know that when they give him a chance on defense he’s going to excel.”

Speaking with a perspective that’s refreshing yet confident, Dansby refuses to make any outlandish predictions for his career. Instead, he’s sticking to a blue-collar, grind-it-out approach.

“I’m just going to take it a step at a time,” said Dansby, a native of Birmingham, Ala. “If big plays come, they come. I’m just going to try to go out and handle my responsibilities and help the team win.”

To become a consummate defender in the NFL, coaches will tell you, younger players need to consistently soak up the knowledge and characteristics of their successful teammates and peers.

During a brief chat with reporters, one quickly realizes Dansby is eager to do this.

He said he has to “just come out and get better and pick up some of the traits from the older guys that have been in the league a while, some of the techniques they use.”

Ten days into training camp, Dansby is showcasing the hard-nosed tenacity and determination that made him a dominant football and hoops standout at Birmingham’s Woodlawn High School. A brief recap: As a senior wideout, he caught 51 passes for 857 yards and five TDs and made 81 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions and two fumbles at linebacker while receiving All-USA Today honorable mention status. On the hardwood, Dansby helped Woodlawn win the Class 6A state title in 2000.

So it’s only natural that teammates have noticed Dansby’s potential since Day 1.

“On special teams, he’s going to be a great player,” Poole said. “He’s explosive off the ball and he picks up things well. That’s only going to be a plus as the days go.”

The same could be said for the heated competition between Hayes, a second-year pro from the University of Pittsburgh, and Dansby. Both want to impress Coach Green and earn more playing time.

“It’s a good competition, man,” Dansby said.

“Gerald’s a great player. I’m bringing everything I’ve got to the table, he’s bringing everything he’s got to the table,” he continued. “So it’s making it real competitive. That’s what we do. We like to compete. That’s why we play this game.”

Asked if he could be a starter right now, Dansby said he’s confident he could get the job done. “Like I said, man, it’s a job on the line and I’m going to go out and fight every day to try to win it,” he added.

That’s precisely the attitude he needs to succeed in this league, according to defensive end Calvin Pace.

“You’ve just got to be upbeat and positive as a rookie,” Pace said.

“You are going to have your ups and you’re going to have your downs,” Pace continued. “But really, you’ve just got to try to be as consistent as you can. Your rookie year is really your stepping stone for your career.”

Dansby said he can improve in all facets of the game, citing improving on defending tight ends as a priority for the rest of training camp. He noted that tight ends have sometimes gotten the best of him on plays because they are using some “little moves” on him.

A quick learner, Dansby plans to improve his footwork, timing and positioning in the coming days.

“By the end of this camp, I guess it’ll be different,” he said.

Before camp began, Green had a favorable impression of Dansby, thanks to plenty of visual images of the ex-Auburn Tiger in action and assessments from the Cardinals’ numerous talent evaluators.

“He’s long, lean, can run, can make a lot of plays. He’s a very explosive football player. … I think special teams is where he’ll do well (in 2004),” the coach concluded.

If Dansby has any say in the matter, special teams will only be the start.