Dockett values offseason more as vet

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Darnell Dockett stood in the middle of the free weight section of the Arizona Cardinals' weight room Thursday looking the part of a team leader.

He was next to speak to the media, humbly waiting in the shadows while Michael Floyd talked about working out and what the Cardinals could build on in 2014.

When Dockett stepped in front of the cameras, he proved that behind him are the days of immaturity that led him to work out on his own, leaving his teammates back in Tempe. But he showed how he learned from his mistakes. And with the fourth quarter of his career approaching, Dockett better understands the need to develop chemistry as a team -- especially this year's Cardinals, who are on the cusp of breaking a four-year playoff drought.

When Dockett stayed home to work out, the Cardinals continued to lose. Coincidence or not, hindsight is crystal clear to Dockett.

"I've realized that over the years you have to bond with your guys in the offseason," Dockett said. "It's very important. We got a few guys that are not here that I'm texting them every day. I don't care what they say I'm literally going to blow their text messages up. We need you here.

"We're trying to do something important here."

That starts in April, long before the lights in University of Phoenix Stadium flicker on and the pyrotechnics welcome the Cardinals on to the field. Arizona is in the first week of its voluntary offseason strength and conditioning program and the response from team has been well received. Dockett estimated that the attendance rate is somewhere around 94 percent.

But guys aren't just showing up to collect their workout bonuses.

They're asking questions in meetings. The young players are using the veterans as resources. More younger players are going to Dockett for advice. He's telling them to take care of their body on and off the field.

And even the veterans are benefiting.

"It was great to go into the classroom and see some notes and some cutouts that I was actually familiar with," Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald told ESPN. "[Last year] was like learning Chinese. So coming in and having some familiarity with everything, it's been fun."

Late morning on Thursday, two groups of Cardinals alternated between the weight room and field conditioning. Although their focus is weights and running, they're spending their time learning about each other, talking about each other's families, for example.

The chemistry that will get Arizona past Seattle and San Francisco in December isn't developed in September or October, Dockett has learned.

"If you don't have it in the offseason, you're not going to have it in training camp. You're not going to have it in the season," Dockett said. "[Showing up] right now is just as important as showing up for the first game of the season.

"This is where you win your championship at. In a couple weeks we'll get 20, 30 more guys in from the draft and free agents. Right now, the foundation of this team is in the locker room and we've got a long way to go. Each and every day we have to capitalize and not take it for granted."

Just as he found out what it takes to become a better teammate, Dockett is learning -- on the fly, no less -- how to be a better leader. But in true leadership fashion, he's giving credit to his teammates for making his role easier.

"I say we got a lot of guys here that are enthusiastic to work," he said. "When you have that it's easier for me. It's easier for me to lead when guys just want to work. I don't have to say nothing. We're a long way from where we want to go as far as conditioning, strength and stuff like that.

"The best thing about it? We're here every day. We're going to every day. We not going to take no days off."