TEMPE, Ariz. — Karlos Dansby will turn 32 on Sunday. To celebrate, the NFL gave him two presents.
The first was a drug test that Dansby joked he knew was coming.
“They say it’s random,” Dansby said with that infectious smile and drawl, “but I see what happens when you have some big games in this league. You’re going to show up on that list.”
The second was a day off. The Cardinals have their bye week, and the break is overdue for Dansby. After eight games, he has played more defensive snaps than any player on the roster except cornerback Patrick Peterson, who is nine years younger.
Dansby missed four snaps against the 49ers in Week 6. Other than that, he’s been on the field for every snap opposing offenses have taken.
“That was my expectation when I got here,” Dansby shrugged. “That was my role before I left here (in 2010) and that was my role when I got to Miami. I never get off the field. I go all day.”
It isn’t out of necessity that the Cardinals play Dansby so much. They’ve got pretty good depth behind him and Daryl Washington at inside linebacker in Jasper Brinkley and rookie run-stuffer Kevin Minter. But Dansby has played so well and has developed such good chemistry with Washington since Washington’s return from a four-game suspension that the coaching staff just doesn’t want to take them off the field.
“It’s exactly what we’d hoped — to have two playmakers on the field that can do multiple different things,” said coach Bruce Arians, who got a whiff of what was possible in offseason and preseason workouts. “When they were in there it was like, ‘Whoof, this could be special.'”
Dansby leads the team in tackles with 71 (69 solos) and has three sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, an interception and 10 passes defensed.
Though he says the mike linebacker position was brand new to him, he also believes it suits him.
“It gives you opportunities,” he said. “You don’t have a lot, but the ones you do have, they can be impactful plays. You have to make them when you get them.”
Neither Washington nor Dansby was certain how much they’d play together when the season began. The staff hinted at the possibilities but never clarified those until Washington took the field in Week 5 against the Panthers.
“It’s only going to get better with us throughout the season as that understanding of each other builds,” Washington said. “We’ve only played four games together.”
Washington says he is already blown away by what he’s seen.
“Obviously, he’s up in age, but the way he’s playing, it doesn’t add up,” Washington said. “Whether he knows it or not, he’s a mentor to me. It’s a great privilege for me to play with a guy like that.”
There wasn’t a shred of doubt that Washington would resume his old role when he returned, but he still said watching Dansby served as a wake-up call.
“I don’t ever want to put my teammates and the organization in that situation again with my suspension, but I believe everything happens for a reason. In this case, it sat me back, made me watch and made me look at the bigger picture,” Washington said. “I’m fortunate enough to play this game and play it at a high level. So don’t take it for granted. Learn from a guy like Karlos, who’s still doing it after all these years.”
Dansby has his owns motivations after a surprising release from Miami this offseason following the Dolphins’ signing of former Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe to a five-year, $35 million contract.
“I never got a full explanation. It was over the phone. It wasn’t even face to face, so I lost a lot of respect for that whole situation,” said Dansby, who started hearing the usual talk that accompanies a 30-something NFL player. “A lot of people thought I was washed up; I was done, and I heard it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard it. That was a lot of motivation for me, so I want everyone to know that I’m just getting started.”
Dansby is a talker, both in the locker room and on the field. It’s led to a friendly stats competition between him and Washington, but it’s also taken some of the vocal load off other players.
“Believe it or not, I’m the more chill guy compared to Karlos,” defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. “I don’t understand why the Dolphins didn’t keep him. Karlos is a damn football player. Sometimes this business don’t make no sense to me, but I sure am happy we got him.”