For someone who embodies the trend toward mountainous linemen in the NFL, Derrick Dockery finds that he has to concentrate on the little things.
At 6 feet 6 and 345 pounds, Dockery, the Washington Redskins' left guard, is the team's tallest and biggest offensive lineman with an agility that belies his size. But Dockery has yet to reach his NFL potential -- because of those little things, like relying on his physical attributes instead of technique.
With his height, nothing has been more difficult for Dockery than one of the most important things for a lineman: staying low with feet shoulder-width apart. Maintaining balance and leverage during play generally separates top offensive linemen from mediocre ones.
"I'm a big guy," Dockery said. "Now I just have to be good in my techniques and everything else will just handle itself."
Dockery -- nicknamed "Big Baby" by left tackle Chris Samuels -- is so intent on improving his technique that he does an exercise on his own at his Ashburn home: He essentially sits against the wall until his thighs burn. It's an odd sight but Dockery's wife, Emma, has gotten used to it.
"She doesn't mind. She understands. She's a good wife," said Dockery, who married Emma, his college sweetheart, during the offseason. "I'm such a tall guy I'm going against most people shorter than me, so I have to play low."
Dockery, 24, enters his third NFL season at a crossroads. After a promising rookie season in 2003, Dockery -- a third-round pick from the University of Texas -- didn't progress as much as he wanted last year. On a talented offensive line, Dockery is the X-factor. "When it's all said and done, he can be the best out of all of us," right guard Randy Thomas said.
However, if Dockery doesn't improve -- or stay low enough -- he knows he can be replaced by the 42-year-old Ray Brown. Although he has started 29 consecutive games, Dockery has been told by coaches that he must improve. "Coach [Joe Bugel] does a tremendous job just hammering it into our heads: technique, technique, technique," Dockery said.
Dockery underwent a weight-training and conditioning regimen during the offseason with Samuels, and teammates say they have seen improvement. "He's 6-6, so it's not easy," Thomas said, "but you can see he's getting more bend in his hip. This game is leverage."
Yesterday, during drills between linemen, Dockery was impressive in a one-on-one battle with defensive tackle Joe Salave'a that had coaches and teammates hollering. "That was a great battle between Derrick and Joe," said Bugel, assistant head coach-offense. "Joe is a relentless pass rusher. He tried to really club him and Dockery hung in there real good."
When Dockery starred at Texas's Lakeview Centennial High and the University of Texas, he didn't need to rely on technique. He was almost always bigger or stronger than his counterparts. Dockery -- who played every line position except center in college -- was named a first-team all-American after his senior season. "The difference from college is you have to play somebody [good] every week," said Dockery, whose 6-4, 315-pound brother, Cedric, is a redshirt freshman offensive lineman at Texas.
Dockery uses his body to compensate for deficiencies in technique. "If you get around him," defensive end Phillip Daniels said, "you can get around anybody. He's a wide dude."
The wide dude also needs to work on his tendency to commit penalties. On a team that was the second-most penalized in club history, Dockery was the worst offender with 11 (seven false starts, three holding and one ineligible receiver downfield).
Bugel -- known as a disciplinarian -- gets on Dockery more than on any other offensive lineman. "He wants to be coached real hard," Bugel said. "He can accept constructive criticism as good as anybody on our team."
Dockery has enough self-assurance to wear No. 66, the same as Joe Jacoby, who was a former Hog and one of the best offensive lineman in Redskins history.
"We couldn't be any more pleased with his progress," Bugel said. "When he learns how to bend his knees and do the things that he's doing right now, he'll be perennial all-pro."