SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Darnell Dockett isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
The San Francisco 49ers free-agent acquisition is eager to back on the field after missing all of 2014 with a torn ACL. He’s also been eager to praise his new teammates, including his offseason workout partner Nick Moody and first-round pick Arik Armstead, who plays the same position at left defensive end.
"At some point of his career," Dockett said of Armstead, "he’s going to be a dominant force and he’s going to be terrorizing everything."
But the pick didn’t come without criticism. Some draft prognosticators believed Armstead’s lack of production, considering his physical gifts, was disappointing throughout his college career. He finished with just 4.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss in 42 games for the Oregon Ducks.
From Dockett’s perspective, those criticisms don’t compute. And having played with Calais Campbell for seven seasons in Arizona, a player commonly compared to Armstead, Dockett believes his new teammate will be better than the Pro Bowler.
"Arik’s got better upside," Dockett said. "Strong, fast, athletic, played basketball, and he listens. He’s going to be a dominant for us."
Armstead was compared to Campbell in the lead up to the draft because they play the same position in a 3-4 defense and have similar builds. Campbell stands 6’8”, weighing 282 pounds, while Armstead measures in at 6’7”, 292.
Dockett backed his point about Armstead potentially being better than Campbell by citing his new working environment at the 49ers' headquarters in Santa Clara.
"He’s got a nutritionist here. He’s got one of the best strength coaches here. He’s got a lot of veterans he can learn from,” said Dockett. “So he’s going to be able to pick the game up faster. And he’s got a coach that’s going to really take care of him, not put wear and tear on his body, have him to sustain a lot of career. He has a lot of upside when it comes to those things.
"As far as playing ability, that’s an Arik thing. How bad do you want it? How bad do you want to train in the offseason? The biggest thing I like about him is he asks questions and he listens, and he responds. Some guys come here, being a first-round pick, they kind of think they know everything. He’s not like that.”
Armstead was unable to participate in most of the 49ers offseason program because NFL rules stipulate rookies cannot join their teams until their collegiate school year ends. Oregon was on the quarter system, preventing Armstead from taking part in the mandatory minicamp in June.
That put Armstead even further behind the incumbent group of veteran defensive linemen already ahead of him on the depth chart. San Francisco’s defensive line might be the team’s deepest position group, relegating the first-round pick to work with the third unit early on through training camp.
While his teammates were working in minicamp, Armstead was back home in Sacramento studying new defensive coordinator Eric Mangini’s defense on his iPad and continuing to work on his body by working out locally.
"Training camp is where my body can get in better shape, and get used to the movements of football, playing with some vets and some pros who I can learn from, who can teach me some things," Armstead said. "I think I’ll be just fine. I’m gong to stay the course, do what my coaches want me to do, and continue with that."
Mangini said, "It’s not like he came into the classroom and was lost. Even over the last three days, you saw that he had done work when he wasn’t here. He’s another guy, very conscientious. Looks like he’s going to be outstanding in terms of his work ethic. Just haven’t had as many reps with him as I have with the other guys."
Docket worked into team drills for the first time in training camp Monday, primarily as a nickel defensive end on the left side of the line. He sustained his ACL tear in a preseason game with the Cardinals last August, prompting his eventual release from the team over the winter.
During his rehabilitation in Miami, Fla., Dockett worked out with his new teammate, Moody, who has been getting first-team reps at inside linebacker alongside NaVorro Bowman while Michael Wilhoite works back after being placed on the non-football injury list at the start of camp.
Moody drew praise from new head coach Jim Tomsula during the spring program, which Dockett reinforced Tuesday.
"I think that if you’ve been in an organization with Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, guys like that, it’s kind of like ‘Why not him?’" Dockett said of Moody. "That offseason work that he put in, I told him that the sky’s the limit for him...If he has a big year, I’m not surprised. Anything less would be a disappointment."