TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- Darnell Dockett enters his 10th NFL season proud to have been elected a team captain - a title he didn't have during a difficult season a year ago. Just don't call him a role model.
Dockett emphasized that point in talking to reporters after the Arizona Cardinals practiced on Thursday in preparation for their season opener at St. Louis on Sunday.
"It's an honor. I'm very thankful for my teammates looking at me in that nature," he said. "I'm going to be the best I can be to lead by example, but again I'm not a role model. I don't want nobody to think I'm going to be a role model.
"I'm going to be the best leader I can possibly be to my guys on and off the football field, but I'm still going to do Dockett every now and then. As long as they're cool with that, I'm all right."
The 6-foot-4, 290-pound defensive tackle has made it clear he feels liberated by the new defensive scheme brought by coordinator Todd Bowles. Now that his teammates have voted him one of the defensive captains - the other is Patrick Peterson - Dockett says people should realize by now that he can be a clown off the field but he's all business come kickoff time.
"I'm just me, man," he said. "I've never changed. I've been the same person. ... I'm very passionate about my job and I'm passionate about football. When it's time to hit a switch and turn that (clownishness) off and go full speed. But as soon as the game is over with, I can turn the other switch back on and be Dockett."
Dockett overcame a rough childhood. At 13, he came home to find his mother dead of a gunshot wound. He moved in with his father, who a short time later died of pancreatic cancer. An uncle provided the inspiration that led him to Florida State and to what has been a long career in the NFL.
He made the Pro Bowl in 2007, 2008 and 2010. But last year he had a career-low 36 tackles. Some of the blame goes to the defensive scheme of then-coordinator Ray Horton. The big guys up front ate up blockers to clear the way for the linebackers to get the glory. Dockett was slow to buy into Horton's system and had run-ins with head coach Ken Whisenhunt. While Bowles also uses a basic 3-4 scheme, there's a bit more freedom for the players up front.
Asked about the problems of last year, particularly on a run defense where Arizona ranked 28th in the league, Dockett mentions communication and the lack of first downs by the Arizona offense, which ranked last in the NFL.
"Anytime you play 60-70 plays a game, it's going to be tough on you," he said.
Dockett's playful side can be a bit brutal. In training camp, he gave rookie Tyrann Mathieu a haircut that had Dockett's No. 90 stenciled on the side, then tweeted out the photo for all to see. It led Mathieu to shave his head to get rid of it.
Dockett said he just tries to lighten things up during the brutal days of preparation.
"I told Karlos (Dansby) this the other day," Dockett said. "He was like, `Man, I don't know how we'd get through practice without you. It's unreal.' I told him every day I bring jokes, I bring energy, I'm always messing with somebody. Before you know it, the coach is blowing the whistle and practice is over."
Larry Fitzgerald has been Dockett's teammate throughout the big lineman's NFL career.
"You probably don't see the side that I see of Darnell," Fitzgerald said. "He's a really, really, really good dude. The things that he does back home in his hometown, stuff that he does in the community. He doesn't do it with a lot of fanfare. That's not what he's about, but he does a lot of good things."
Dockett, Fitzgerald concedes, "is a clown."
"He likes to have a good time and poke fun but at his core he's a really good person and a great teammate," Fitzgerald said. "If you're going to be in a dark alley and you get to pick one guy, he's one of the guys you want in your corner. On Sunday, there's nobody who plays harder or with more tenacity than he does."
Dockett doesn't dwell on last season. It's a new team with new coaches and new players, he said. The clock is ticking. He knows most players at his position don't last long.
As a signal of a new beginning, he even cut off those long locks that had been part of his look for years. Told he was more handsome, Dockett smiled and rubbed his head.
"That's what the chicks say, too," he said.