Rookie nose tackle Dan Williams (left) discusses things with fellow linemen Bryan Robinson (97) and Darnell Dockett (90) during Williams' first practice Wednesday.
FLAGSTAFF – Darnell Dockett remembered what it was like when he first came to the Cardinals, when he felt there was no veteran defensive lineman willing to show him the ropes. He vowed he'd do it differently when he was the veteran.
Bryan Robinson wasn't even sure he'd come back to play this season, his aching body tired from 13 years in the NFL. But he was convinced to return, in part to help bring along young talent that could ultimately cost him a spot on the roster.
Dan Williams knows all this. The Cardinals' No. 1 pick was taken to be the anchor nose tackle, the man who'd suck blockers away from Dockett and eventually take Robinson's job. His talent is potentially enormous, his attitude perfect. He has teammates that want to show him the way. And Williams wants to be lead.
"Dan," said coach Ken Whisenhunt, "is eager to learn."
Williams, a day after signing his new five-year contract, practiced for the first time Tuesday, He was sucking wind when it was over, running around for the first time in full pads since college except this time at 7,000 feet of altitude.
During it, he listened to both Robinson – who was sitting out because a veteran like him has earned a day off once in a while – and Dockett. They helped him "push through it," Williams said.
Dockett was the first Cardinal player to reach out to Williams when he was drafted in April. Williams hasn't forgotten that. When Williams arrived to work out, Dockett brought him into his world. On the first day, there were 15 exercises on the list, except Dockett always stretched it out to 20 or 25.
Williams looked at Dockett like he was crazy, but didn't say a word.
"He adapted well," Dockett said. "At the end of the day, his attitude was there. He never complained."
Whisenhunt is a big proponent of veterans helping younger players. He tried to do that when he was playing. Sometimes it didn't work. With the Jets, Whisenhunt watched the team draft another tight end, Johnny Mitchell, in the first round. Whisenhunt tried to help him, but Mitchell "didn't want any help from me because I wasn't big enough or strong enough or fast enough, so …
"I don't see that from Dan."
Because of that, Williams – who has repeatedly said he wants to earn respect from his teammates – has already formed a symbiotic relationship with both Robinson and Dockett.
Robinson is realistic with his situation. He, Williams, Gabe Watson and Alan Branch are all fighting as interior linemen. The Cards brought him back to help the rookie, yet there is a possibility that'll be a short-term job.
Yet that's irrelevant to Robinson.
"If I make the team or not, I still want to see the Cardinals do well, and we are going to go as (Dan) goes," Robinson said. "For me to keep things secret and not share it, I would be doing an injustice to not only him but to the Cardinals.
"He can help us win. I know he's going to be here – he's not getting cut – and I want this organization to do well."
Williams said he is "thankful" of everything Robinson has already taught him. As for Dockett, Williams said he has a lot of respect for his Pro Bowl cohort.
"(Darnell) is passionate about football and the way he expresses himself, I mean, he is very unique," Williams said. "He's a good leader and he leads by example. There is a reason he talks the way he does because he backs it up."
Some of that talking has included how the defensive linemen are going to treat Williams. The rookie was carrying Dockett's pads Tuesday, and Dockett has told Williams (and anyone that will listen) that there will be many other duties – buying dinners and paying for Dockett's ride down the hill for the first preseason game, for example – to come.
Even that has gone smoothly.
"His attitude is good," Dockett said. "If he keeps that attitude, then I think, after training camp, we'll lay off him. But the first time he bucks, it's going to be harder on him.
"He knows I got no problem balling him up like a pretzel. But it won't come to that."
If Williams lives up to his draft status, he'll make the Cardinals' defense better. That's all that Dockett and Robinson want, and exactly what Williams wants to accomplish.
"I didn't have anyone to embrace me and show me things and make me feel welcome and comfortable," Dockett said. "It pays off. You make him feel he is a part of the family."
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