Before he went to Houston as a free agent, former Cardinals defensive end Antonio Smith (94) talks with defensive tackle Darnell Dockett.
Darnell Dockett is looking forward to seeing his best friend, Antonio Smith, Sunday when the Houston Texans visit. Smith has been long gone from the Cardinals, having left as a free agent to Houston following the 2008 season, but that hasn't broken the bond between he and Dockett.
"I'm not excited about getting 19 tickets for his family and him calling me every day asking me for keys (to the Cardinals), 'What's this guy like, he block like this?' " Dockett said. "I tell him nothing. I tell him, 'I don't go against our offense, I don't go against our first offense, I don't know what they do.' He's like, 'Whatever, whatever.' "
Dockett and Smith were part of an exceptional 2004 draft class for the Cardinals. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was the first-round pick, linebacker Karlos Dansby was taken in the second round, and Dockett the defensive tackle was in the third round. Smith was a fifth-round pick, a player who spent time on the practice squad before eventually emerging as a very good defensive end.
Fitzgerald and Dockett have spent their careers in Arizona. Dansby left as a free agent, replaced by Daryl Washington, before returning this past offseason. Smith was the first to leave, getting a huge free agent contract from Houston when the Cardinals knew his heir apparent – 2008 second-round pick Calais Campbell – was sitting by, ready to take over.
"We've got three guys on the team still and we get to see Antonio," Fitzgerald said. "We're
definitely going to get a picture after the game and hopefully Antonio is upset."
Smith has already had his return to play the Cardinals in Arizona. The Texans visited in 2009 – a 28-21 Cardinals' victory – when Smith managed only one tackle. That was before the arrival of dynamic linemate J.J. Watt, however.
There isn't much left linking Smith and the Cardinals after more than four seasons away.
"They're all gone," Smith said. "All it is is Fitz, Dockett, Karlos and then Lyle (Sendlein). Me and Dockett have been talking crap. That's my brother. We talk all the time. He's been giving me crap, talking about what they're going to do. And I've been giving him crap.
"I reckon it's going to be a pretty fun game. He's pumping his boys up. I'm pumping my boys up. I tell little tall tales here and there, see if I can get some people motivated."
Smith has turned into an impressive partner with Watt. Cardinals tackle Eric Winston said Smith wasn't credited enough with his play, and Cardinals coaches Bruce Arians and Harold Goodwin both praised Smith's play.
Dockett acknowledged he wasn't thrilled when Smith left, although Campbell has proven to be a good choice for Arizona as a replacement. Besides, Smith got the money in Houston he never would have in Arizona.
"I know the saying business is business, Houston took care of him, it's all love," Dockett said. "Karlos did it. He happened to come back. Antrel (Rolle) did, DRC, all the guys I was close to. I wish them all well. At some point we'll all link up again."
SOWELL READY TO PLAY TACKLE
Left tackle Bradley Sowell was back at practice Friday in a limited role after battling a stomach virus. Missing two days didn't help, but with the iPads the Cardinals work with for playbook and film study, Sowell had no trouble keeping track of what the Cardinals were working on and he said he was prepared to start against the Texans.
"There is no such thing as missing classroom time anymore," Sowell said. With the iPad, "As soon as something happens I can see it right there. Plus I was in their division last year so I've faced them twice before."
Sowell played for the Colts last season.
"He looked fine," Arians said. "We'll get more medicine in him and it looked like he was ready to go."
RUNNING BACK SHUFFLE FOR BOTH TEAMS
Arians confirmed running back Rashard Mendenhall, who worked full in practice Friday, will start and not Andre Ellington. Ellington, however, is expected to get 18 to 20 touches if all goes right with the Cards' gameplan.
Texans starting running back Arian Foster (back) is out. With Foster down, Ben Tate – who is playing will four cracked ribs – will start at running back for Houston.
BALLARD TO BE ACTIVE
Veteran tight end Jake Ballard, just signed this week, will be active Sunday. "He has a role for this ballgame," Arians said.
Arians said Ballard was "very bright" and picked up the offense quickly. With Rob Housler dealing with the groin injury that cropped up in practice this week, the Cardinals could end up with four active tight ends. Jim Dray will play. Kory Sperry was inactive against the Falcons.
The only player out for the Cardinals is wide receiver Brittan Golden, who didn't practice all week because of his bad hamstring. Officially, Sowell, defensive end Frostee Rucker (calf) and Housler are questionable, but Arians said he was confident they would be available.
Besides Foster, linebacker Mike Mohamed (hamstring) is out for Houston.