The on-field work was done for the day, but Darnell Dockett wasn’t in a big hurry to head into the locker room.
Not when the veteran defensive lineman had the chance to talk about the new scheme of defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and what it means for both him and fellow defensive end Calais Campbell.
“It’s like a million pounds off your shoulders,” Dockett said.
Former defensive coordinator Ray Horton ran a 3-4 alignment in which the defensive linemen were used in part to keep the offensive linemen off the linebackers. Aggressive moves took a back seat to scheme, and Dockett was arguably the most frustrated with his two-gap duties.
What little Dockett has heard in meetings and done on the field has flipped those feelings.
“Personally, I had nothing against Ray,” Dockett said. “But I hated that scheme. I really hated it. I played it because I needed to.
Dockett had just 1½ sacks last season and 3½ the season before, and while sacks are not the ultimate judgment on effectiveness, it was hard not to notice when the three-time Pro Bowler had much bigger sack totals in his earlier years.
Dockett likes the idea of being able to aggressively attack blockers one-on-one, rather than absorbing blocks and going from there. Campbell was much more effective in that regard – 14½ sacks the past two seasons – and was Horton’s example to Dockett of an effective 3-4 end. Campbell emerged as a star-in-the-making the past two years. But even Campbell sees the potential of what Bowles’ plans could mean for him.
“I definitely like it,” Campbell said. “Darnell and myself, I feel like we have the ability to make a lot of different plays, but sometimes in the 3-4 you have to put the team in front of yourself. This defense, the way we are doing things, it gives us a chance to make a difference.”
That’s all the coaching staff wants.
“We want to take advantage of their God-given ability,” defensive line coach Brentson Buckner said. “We don’t want to handicap them by the things we do. We want to line them up, make sure they have good technique, and let the dogs hunt.”
Dockett’s rocky 2012 season wasn’t limited to dealing with the defensive scheme. His clear frustration with offensive struggles and the long losing streak came to a head in New York with a disagreement with the coaches on a decision to let the Jets score a touchdown and then big fine from the team. For a while, there was speculation Dockett could be moved after the season.
He instead will be an important piece for the defense. Bowles chuckles when asked about Dockett, saying that regardless of statistics, any team would want a playmaker like Dockett. Bucker echoed the sentiment.
“There’s a reason for a five- or six-year span he was considered one of the best defensive linemen in the game,” Buckner said.
“Coach Bowles is doing a good job saying, ‘I don’t want to limit these guys,’ ” Buckner added. “That’s all we are trying to do, get these guys excited about doing the things they have been doing and not dread coming to work.”
Dockett certainly isn’t dreading anything at work right now, not here during the height of the offseason. He smiles recounting his work in minicamp, already anxious to get going against some of the offensive linemen that he thinks don’t believe he’s as good as he once was.
“The whole defensive line is now, ‘Oh man, Dockett is about to kill this,’ ” Dockett said. “Even in practice, they’re like, ‘This is crazy, they’ve got you doing this every play?’ It’s about being aggressive.
“I never changed my attitude for the game, but some of my hunger wasn’t there because I had to learn something I wasn’t good at. I just dealt with it. If Todd came to me now and said he’d need me to do something I’m not good at, I’d do it if it gave us a better chance to win some games. I want to win. I want to go out on top. I’m feeling great. There’s so much energy around here.”