It's time for Calais Campbell to lead with Dockett gone

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Calais Campbell deflects questions about his leadership role like he deflects the hands of offensive linemen trying to slow his rush.

"We have a lot of leaders," he says without ever mentioning himself.

In that respect he is the anti-Darnell Dockett. No chest thumping. No inflated sense of his importance to the younger players. No discernible ego.

"My role is: just continue to be me," Campbell said when pressed this week during OTAs. "Make sure I am vocal when I need to, get on some young guys when I need to, but just lead by example in being the best player I can be on the field. Leaders by example are always the best leaders."

Whether he admits it or not, Campbell will assume the mantle of leadership along the defensive line this season. Dockett is gone, cut in a highly publicized and occasionally acrimonious cap move. Campbell's best friend on the line, Dan Williams, also departed after signing a free-agent deal with Oakland. 

Veteran Frostee Rucker is well-respected, capable and articulate and the Cardinals also signed veterans Cory Redding and Corey Peters to shore up the line. But Campbell is the best player on that unit, the heart and soul of a position group that has been strong for several seasons, in spite of a late-season slip last year.

Bruce Arians didn't shy away from anointing Campbell when the Cardinals coach discussed him at the NFL owners meetings in March. Nor did he shy away from asking more from his 6-foot-8 defensive end.

"I'd like to see more consistent play out of him," Arians said. "He went to the Pro Bowl, but I still think he has not even scratched his consistent level of play. He disappears too much. I told him that the other day: 'you can't disappear in games any more. You've got to be dominant the whole game.'" 

Campbell missed two games last season after suffering a sprained MCL on Oct. 5 from an infamous chop block by Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas that Arians called the "dirtiest play I've seen in 37 years." He still led all Cardinals defensive linemen in tackles (58) and solo tackles (48). He had three passes defensed and 17 quarterback pressures and he finished second on the team in sacks with seven, but all of those sacks came in four games.

He earned his first Pro Bowl nod in December. Arians hopes the confidence that comes from that honor will help Campbell take his game to another level this season. The absence of Dockett could have just as big an impact. Dockett's big personality often drowned out other players. Campbell is no longer in that shadow.

"Losing Dockett and Dan Williams (and Antonio Cromartie), it happens; it's part of the game," Campbell said. "Those guys were really good for the team the last couple of years, but we have a lot of good leadership now. A lot of guys that were younger are stepping up."

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