GLENDALE, Ariz. — You expect them, but you can’t predict them.
You deal with them, but you are usually worse off because of them.
Injuries are an understood part of the NFL, but that does not make them any easier to stomach. So when Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett was lying on the ground in pain after a play early in Monday’s practice at University of Phoenix Stadium, the mood took a turn.
“It’s very unfortunate,” defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said after practice. “We all know it’s the part of the game that everyone hates, people getting hurt and people getting cut. We don’t know what happened; I’m rushing in there right now to see what happened to the Cap.
“We’re just hoping and praying for the best right now.”
No one seemed quite sure of what happened on the play, but it was likely Dockett’s last of 2014, as the Cardinals announced late Monday that Dockett had torn his right ACL.
This now opens the door for Rucker, and others, to help fill the void left by the three-time Pro Bowler who has 349 career tackles along with 40.5 sacks. Though Dockett is not the player he once was, he was coming off a season that saw him post 4.5 sacks, and he is still one of the more respected players in the league.
He’s also a leader on the Cardinals, for whom he is tied with Larry Fitzgerald as the longest tenured member of the team.
“It’s just a tough situation to be in,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “He’s a great player, a guy we really count on week in and week out to be a leader and take us where we want to go.”
So even though it is part of the game, it’s never easy to see a player — especially one of Dockett’s caliber — get hurt. At the beginning of camp, Dockett himself seemed understanding of the risk, pointing out that he wasn’t looking at this season any differently because of the idea that his window may have been closing because along the defensive line, he said, the window is always closing.
“I take real advantage of that, I don’t take it for granted because I also understand anything can happen,” he said on July 25. “I don’t look at it so far as the years-wise, I look at it as the opportunities. Every play is a play you can go down, especially at that position.”
At this point, those words seem to be unfortunately prophetic.
The Cardinals will need to fall back on the “next man up” mentality that has served them well. But while it’s a nice rallying cry, it still wouldn’t mask the fact that one of the team’s captains, leaders and most reliable players is unable to be on the field helping.
Rucker said he would be comfortable filling in if called upon, which is the mentality everyone seems to have.
“We know it’s part of the game; that’s the chance that we take when we play this sport,” defensive tackle Dan Williams said. “You hate for a guy to go down, but in the meantime someone, if it is major, someone has to step up. We know in this business that comes with it.”
That said, going forward without Dockett, who has missed just two games to injury in 10 seasons since being selected in the third round of the 2004 NFL Draft, would be a new and unexpected venture for a team with postseason aspirations in large part because of what Dockett and the defense were expected to do.
“I played against him for three of those years when I was in Seattle,” tight end John Carlson said. “He’s a beast. That’s all I’m going to say, he’s a beast. He’s a beast.”