Darnell Dockett signs one of his black replica jerseys after a practice in Flagstaff.
FLAGSTAFF – Who is Darnell Dockett?
He's the guy who will reveal bluntly to the world what he is thinking, the man who keeps his head coach on his toes. Pondering Dockett's personality, coach Ken Whisenhunt quipped, "if he's not in the shower, it's pretty good."
Dockett isn't just about sound bites and tweets, however.
He's the Pro Bowl defensive lineman who was supposed to take a few reps off at a recent practice to nurse a sore groin, until buddy Gabe Watson wandered up and reminded Dockett he'd be battling all-pro guard Steve Hutchinson in Minnesota this season. Dockett looked at Watson, muttered, "(Expletive), OK" and put his helmet on to go right back to work.
"Coach, don't worry about it," Dockett told defensive line coach Ron Aiken. "It's personal."
But Dockett isn't just about work ethic.
He's the guy who wanted a new upgraded contract, and has for a couple of years, when he was barely into his current extension. He complained loudly and missed all the voluntary offseason work in 2008 and 2009 and then, suddenly, decided to become the model employee this offseason.
Now he's the guy with the impending new contract, even if there isn't a certainly of when. Dockett says he believes in the organization and that a new deal is coming sooner rather than later, and Whisenhunt's assessment of the situation echoes the optimism.
"He knows if he continues on the path he is on, that'll be taken care of," Whisenhunt said. "You don't want to lose a player like that. That's our goal, to take care of players that are doing things the right way, as you can see with Adrian Wilson. Certainly, Darnell is a priority."
It's funny, though, because Dockett doesn't see the parallel. He knows Wilson was praised for being the good soldier before his 2009 contract extension but "I wasn't taking no Adrian Wilson route on anything. Adrian is his own man, I'm my own man."
No one would argue that Dockett is one of a kind.
Whisenhunt had his issues with Dockett when the new coach arrived in 2007, with Dockett still out-of-control emotional on the field and getting enough penalties that Whisenhunt considered benching him. It's not like Dockett's emotions still don't rear up – like knocking quarterback Matt Leinart's feet out from under him at an early training camp practice – but "I understand Darnell now," Whisenhunt said. "I understand what he's trying to do."
Dockett is trying to leave a legacy of hard work in his time in the league, a more mature goal than perhaps he once would have had. He's connecting with fans, putting out phone numbers to talk to some and creating times where he'll show up to sign Dockett replica jerseys. He's certainly trying to get a mega-contract, but he's doing so now by dominating on the field, making Pro Bowls, and buying into Whisenhunt's plan both on the field and off – mostly.
Dockett is going to talk and talk a lot. He's going to engage in verbal warfare with the 49ers, he's going to raise eyebrows sometimes with his Twitter account. He's going to inexplicably take a shower online. "He is always creating some kind of something," Leinart said.
But he's also the guy who has become relentless in practice, laying into teammates he doesn't think are raising their game even if it is only the second week in August. He's the guy who was sitting in his dorm room recently, sore in the knees and the ribs after practice with ice packs everywhere – until he saw San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis exclaim on ESPN the 49ers were going to win the division, and "instantly, the ice packs were gone and I was ready to go back out to work."
Any chance he might have skipped the first part of training camp or the offseason work because of his contract situation disappeared when he thought about facing the 49ers, or when he considered how he recruited linebacker Joey Porter to sign and didn't want to abandon his new teammate. "(How do I) get into my selfish mode, don't come, and text (Joey), 'I hope everything is going well?' " Dockett asked rhetorically.
There will always be bumps in the road with Dockett, but Whisenhunt said "I am in a good place with Darnell" and, assuming the contract is worked out, the organization is too. Dockett loves Whisenhunt, loves strength and conditioning coach John Lott and – again, assuming a new contract – wants to leave his loyalty with the Cardinals.
Besides, whatever quirks he has off the field are offset by the beast he becomes on it. "When you put your hand in the dirt and the ball is snapped, there is no goofiness or playing around with Darnell," Whisenhunt said.
Who is Darnell Dockett? He's a player the Cards need around.
"If I wasn't in the huddle," Dockett said, "we'd take a step back."
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