SANTA CLARA (AP) — Darnell Dockett figures he walked past former archrival Alex Boone seven times before they finally spoke the other day.
San Francisco’s new defensive lineman broke their silence with a good-natured question to Boone: “Are you retiring?”
Meant in fun, Dockett has been inundated on social media with questions about the state of the 49ers following four high-profile retirements in three months.
Would he sign here again given that linebackers Patrick Willis and Chris Borland, defensive end Justin Smith and right tackle Anthony Davis all are suddenly gone from the game?
“I’ve been in the division for so long, everybody’s aiming for the top teams, so I was getting a lot of criticism and people saying, ‘Oh, man, why’d you go to San Fran?’ and ‘Why’d you do this, everybody’s jumping ship? You should have went to Seattle.’ I’ve been playing in this league for so long, it don’t matter the players that depart the team. It’s all about the chemistry and things you build in July and August. Everybody’s got to play the game on Sunday,” he said.
On Twitter, Dockett requested that everybody just calm down.
“Don’t ask me about who’s retired and what’s going on with football this and that.... We will still WIN! Just watch! #savage #adversity.”
He followed that up with, “The story in the end will be that much better!!!!”
Dockett joined the 49ers on a two-year contract in March after spending his first 10 NFL seasons with Arizona. Then, everybody started leaving town.
“Like I said on Twitter, we’ll win. You don’t have to have all the big names and things like that,” Dockett said during this week’s minicamp, which wrapped up Thursday. “It’s unfortunate some guys are leaving because I think we’re going to have a great season. At the same time you’ve got to just worry about the guys that’s here and the guys that’s willing and want to play football.”
The 34-year-old Dockett sat out all of 2014 with a knee injury suffered during training camp and plans to be ready once training camp begins again next month.
He started every game for the Cardinals in 2013, finishing with 46 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks. Now, he will play for promoted defensive line coach Jim Tomsula, someone who has greeted him after each game twice a season in the NFC West.
“My relationship I had with Jimmy T is very unique,” Dockett said. “I’ve had the utmost respect for Jim throughout my career. After every game we met on the 50-yard line and always talked football.”
The respect is mutual, and that’s why Tomsula sought him out after each game — “there’s nothing really sexy about it or anything,” Tomsula notes.
“It’s just, ‘Hey man, I’ve got a lot of respect for the way you play on game day,’” he said. “Somebody does something good, you read something that’s really good, sometimes you get the urge, you want to pick up the phone, give a call and say, ‘Hey, that was great.’ That’s all it was.’”
It still meant a lot to Dockett, who can’t wait to get on the field with his new teammates. He already knows linebacker NaVorro Bowman and tight end Vernon Davis from growing up in Maryland. He played with wideout Anquan Boldin at Florida State and with the Cardinals.
“When you look at guys like that, you know those guys are committed to win,” Dockett said. “My decision was easy. I wouldn’t change it.”
This offseason, he did what he could to offer guidance to young players since he couldn’t be an example on the field. That time will come, and he will continue to use his strong voice — as he did hollering across the locker room Thursday.
“I’m going to speak my mind,” he said. “Being a veteran and being in the league longer than the majority of these guys, I know what it takes to win. That’s what I’m here for. A lot of guys were coming to me asking me certain questions that I was very surprised they were asking me. That’s a sign when you know they want to be that good. I only speak about the football things that I can do on Sundays. My role is easy.”