By: Ed Cole
Frostee Rucker is heading into his ninth NFL season, and his second with the Arizona Cardinals. Rucker is used to seeing Darnell Dockett leading the charge on the Cardinals defensive line.
Now, Rucker will get his chance to lead the charge, after Dockett suffered a season ending knee injury in training camp.
Rucker has adopted the “next man up” mantra that head coach Bruce Arians has instilled in his players since Day One of his arrival on the job.
“I’ve been preparing myself since last year, anytime I’m out here to be the guy because I’ve been in this league long enough and I know injuries happen, things happen and you gotta prepare yourself and be ready,” Rucker said.
Rucker has starting experience – he started all 16 games for the Cleveland Browns in 2012 – which should help him tremendously in this difficult transition period.
“It’s huge, in this defense especially,” Rucker said. “We rotate so much and everyone knows what they’re doing.”
“I don’t think there [will] be any drop-off,” Rucker said. “I just got to make sure to prepare myself to follow in the footsteps of No. 90.”
Arians has seen Rucker explode during training camp. It may be partially due to Rucker getting more and more comfortable running in a 3-4 defense. In the past, Rucker’s only played in a 4-3 defense, so there was a period of adjustment to a new scheme.
“Last year was a learning experience and now I’m a lot more comfortable knowing what [defensive coordinator] Todd [Bowles] wants, and [I’m] ready to work,” Rucker said.
Rucker came to the Cardinals with a starter’s resume. He started 27 out of 32 games with the Bengals and Browns in 2011 and 2012 respectively. He saw action in every game last season with the Cardinals, with one lone start – a Week 11 start against the Colts at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Rucker was just doing his part to contribute to the defense’s success, knowing his time was coming to do more.
“I was just preparing myself for whatever was thrown my way,” Rucker said. “4-3, 3-4, whatever position they wanted me to play, as long as my hand was in the dirt and it was time to get it.”
“I’m thrilled about the opportunity and I’m gonna work my tail off to lead by example and work as hard as I can,” Rucker said.
Bowles is looked upon as one of the league’s great defensive minds. The defense was ranked No. 1 against the run last year under his leadership.
The defense has lost a lot, with Dockett going down, Karlos Dansby departing for the Browns and Daryl Washington suspended for the season. Rucker believes in Bowles and what he’ll be able to get out of the new look Cardinals defense.
“He’s a great coach, [his] leadership stands out a lot to me,” Rucker said. “When everyone’s on the same page, we play lights out and it’s another opportunity this year to do what we do and improve on a lot of things we didn’t do well last year.”
It’s hard to replace arguably the heart and soul of the defense in Dockett, but Rucker’s not trying to do that. He’s just trying to stay in his lane and do his part.
“Darnell’s been the heartbeat of this team for 11 years,” Rucker said. “You can’t just replace that, you just gotta step in and do what you do and bring the best out of you.”
Rucker will see a familiar foe this week on Sunday Night Football in his former team, the Bengals, who visit University of Phoenix Stadium. He’s more than ready for the bright lights and his old team.
“Oh it’s huge, I can’t wait,” Rucker said. “I’ve already talked back and forth with a couple of the guys and they know exactly what my tempo is gonna be in this game.”
“This is one heck of a week to be out there and under the circumstances to be able to play my old team,” Rucker said.