TEMPE, Ariz. -- It’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish.
Just ask Darnell Dockett.
The Arizona Cardinals’ lively, brash defensive tackle was the eighth DT taken in the 2004 NFL draft, going first in the third round. A decade later, just two of the seven tackles selected in front of him -- Vince Wilfork and Dwan Edwards -- are still playing. And as Dockett enters his 10th season, none of the DTs taken throughout the whole 2004 draft have played in as many games as his 142, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“I feel awesome,” Dockett said. “I feel stronger and better than I was the last year (or) the year before. Again, it’s one of those things where you take care of your body and you got to take advantage of it, especially playing at this level and at this position. It’s tough.
“Most guys only go three, four, five years. You’re talking about 10 straight and only missing two games. That’s a lot of wear and tear.”
Dockett only missed one game in 2010 and 2012, and his durability and longevity has added to his legacy. Only one other player selected in 2004, regardless of position, has played in more games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau: Punter Andy Lee has suited up for 144.
Dockett reported to camp with a new look. He trimmed down and shed his braids.
After the worst statistical season of his career -- 36 tackles, 1.5 sacks and just four pass deflections -- Dockett is hungry to start fresh under new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles.
Since 2008, the Cardinals’ defense has been better -- albeit sometimes just slightly -- with the three-time Pro Bowler on the field. In 2012, Arizona allowed 4.9 yards per play with Dockett compared with 5.7 without him.
And since 2007, Dockett has led all defensive tackles with 30 sacks. Twice during that span, 2007 and 2009, Dockett led the NFL in sacks with nine and seven, respectively.
A refocused, rededicated and fit Dockett could spell trouble for quarterbacks.
“If you’re gonna be in a dark alley and you can only pick one guy, he’s one of the guys you’ll want in your corner,” said Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was also chosen in the 2004 draft. “On Sundays, there’s no one that plays harder or with tenacity like he does.”