Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett (right) talks with wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald during the Cardinals' preseason opener against the Texans two weeks ago. Dockett was lost for the season Monday after tearing his ACL in practice.
Darnell Dockett had barely played in the preseason, because the reality was the veteran defensive tackle didn't need a lot of prep work to get ready for his 11th season. Avoiding injury was more important.
But that turned out not to matter Monday, when Dockett got his foot stuck in the turf at University of Phoenix Stadium during a practice drill and went down in pain with a right knee injury. Dockett was carted off, and the Cardinals confirmed the gut-punch news Monday night – Dockett had torn his anterior cruciate ligament and is out for the 2014 season.
Dockett will undergo surgery. He tweeted his reaction later Monday night:
Thank you all for your support & get well wishes. I really do appreciate it. This will be a tough road to recovery but I been through worst. — DARNELL DOCKETT (@ddockett) August 19, 2014
It is a crushing blow to a defense that had already lost linebacker Daryl Washington to suspension and is dealing with a pectoral injury to linebacker Kevin Minter. The Cardinals, ranked sixth overall in defense last season and were top-ranked
against the run, now must deal with the loss of a mainstay who has played in 158 of 160 possible games during his decade with the team. Dockett has played more than 80 percent of the team's defensive snaps since he was drafted in 2004.
"He's a player we count on, week in and week out, to be a leader," defensive end Calais Campbell said after practice, before the team knew the extent of the injury.
Nose tackle Dan Williams said Dockett got his foot stuck in the ground.
"It's a tough situation to be in," Williams said.
"I came over to him, he was on the ground a while, I told him to stay strong, and I went back to practice," Campbell said.
The Cardinals are fortunate they built up the depth of the defensive line this offseason. They drafted Kareem Martin and Ed Stinson, and both are now expected to play even bigger roles. Veteran Frostee Rucker has been solid, and even undrafted rookie tackle Bruce Gaston – who has missed a couple of practices with a knee injury – has flashed potential.
The Cards also should soon get nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu off the physically unable to perform list. Ta'amu himself tore his ACL in the 2013 season finale and still has a chance to get into the Cardinals' regular-season opener.
More will also be expected from Campbell, who has already evolved into the Cardinals' best defensive lineman.
"People go down every day almost," Campbell said. "Sometimes it's simple and they come right back into practice and sometimes it's serious. It depends. In football, when people go down, you move the ball up and keep playing football. Since I was 6 years old playing the game, it's always been when someone goes down, next man up."
Rucker figures to take Dockett's spot with the first unit, although Martin will also get work there in sub-packages.
But Dockett provided intangibles that will be difficult to reproduce. He had become more of a leader as the years went on, and he was the face of the Cardinals' bravado in many ways. His rough-around-the-edges persona helped, especially in the brutal NFC West.
The Cardinals do have two open spots on the roster. It would not be a surprise to see them add a body on the defensive line, even if they officially hold off on putting Dockett on injured reserve immediately. General Manager Steve Keim also likes to search the waiver wire, so adding a defensive lineman after final cuts also could make sense.
The reaction, even as news trickled out, came quickly from former teammates around the NFL.
The Cardinals are hoping to get some good news this week when safety Tyrann Mathieu comes off the PUP list himself, after tearing his ACL (and MCL) in early December. His return will help the defense, just as Dockett's will hurt it.
"Hopefully if you have a good team, you don't miss a beat," Campbell said.