Replacing Dockett will be a family affair

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Day 1 of life without Darnell Dockett dawned Wednesday at University of Phoenix Stadium with plenty of laments and praise for the Cardinals’ injured defensive captain.

"You can’t replace Dockett," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "He’s emotional; he’s passionate. 

"I’ll definitely try my best to be emotional and passionate like he was and I’m sure a lot of other guys will try to replace his spirit, but it’s tough."

Dockett was officially placed on season-ending injured reserve after tearing his right ACL on a routine play in Monday’s practice.

"It was unfortunate — one of those non-contact deals," coach Bruce Arians said. "You just put your foot in the ground and it’s over." 

While Dockett won’t be able to help the Cardinals’ ever-thinning defense on the field, Arians hopes he will still help from the sidelines.

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"His spirit and leadership is just something we need and don’t want to lose," Arians said. "The injuries, they happen. It’s terrible for him; it’s a great opportunity for somebody else."

The biggest opportunity will fall to key reserve Frostee Rucker, whom Arians named the starter in Dockett’s place. Rucker was an effective rotation player last season behind Dockett and has had a terrific camp.

"Frostee’s been playing probably the best I’ve ever seen him play," Arians said. 

Like many of the Cardinals, Rucker said he is more comfortable in his second year in coordinator Todd Bowles’ system. But he insisted he isn’t approaching the job any differently now that he has been named the starter.

"I’ve been preparing myself since last year, every time I’m out here, to be the guy. I’ve been in the league long enough to know injuries happen," he said. "Four-3, 3-4 whatever position they wanted me to play; as long as my hand was in the dirt, it was time to get it."

With Rucker playing so well, the greater issue for the defense may be the depth behind him. Fifth-round pick Ed Stinson has been getting some reps with the first team, especially in nickel packages. The Cardinals also figure to use third-round pick Kareem Martin, although Arians said Martin needs to work on his run defense.

With nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu off the PUP list, the team could also use Dan Williams at end in some situations, as it has done in the past.

To further shore up the depth, the team signed veterans Isaac Sopoaga and Ryan McBean to one-year deals on Wednesday. Sopoaga has started 89 games and played in 139 with 229 tackles (158 solos) and 8.5 career sacks. McBean has played in 47 games since being drafted in 2007, with 21 starts.

But the burden of replacing Dockett won’t simply fall on the defensive linemen who spell him.

"It’s going to be a package deal," linebacker John Abraham said. "It’s got to be all 11 of us, from the younger guys to the older guys."

The same can be said for the offense. Quarterback Carson Palmer talked frequently in the offseason about the offense needing to take some pressure off the defense by putting up more points. With Dockett gone — and with an improved offensive line and more speed at receiver — that need is now underscored.

"Our goal from the beginning is to be the strength of the team," center Lyle Sendlein said. "Going into camp, if you compete with a defense like ours and have days where you win more often than not, then you like to think you will be the strength of the team."

Maybe the Cardinals will be all right. Good organizations build depth for these very situations that occur every season. But with Karlos Dansby and Dockett now gone, the Cardinals have lost something that may be hard to replicate.

"Just like with Karlos (Dansby) leaving, you’re losing a rah-rah, captain-type fella," Rucker said. "Darnell’s been the heartbeat of this team for 11 years. You can’t really replace that; you just have to step in and do what you do."

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