NFC West: Frostee Rucker

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cardinals’ 35-6 loss to Seattle:
  • Rucker
    Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker said he didn’t take offense to Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch grabbing his crotch as he dove into the end zone after a 79-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. “It’s childish,” Rucker said.
  • Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said running back Kerwynn Williams didn’t play much Sunday night because “he’s not the best pass blocker that we have.” Another reason was because the Cardinals didn’t run the ball as much as the previous two weeks and the packages in place better fit Marion Grice and Stepfan Taylor.
  • Cornerback Patrick Peterson said upon finding out that the Seahawks gained almost 600 yards of offense: “I almost passed out. That is unacceptable for us, especially for our standards.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Arizona Cardinals assistant coach Tom Pratt is a patient man.

He’s been waiting, along with the rest of the coaching staff, for the Frostee Rucker they thought they were signing as a free agent in 2013 to surface. His patience has paid off the past two games.

Rucker, a 31-year-old defensive end, had seven tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.

Pratt, the Cardinals' 79-year-old pass rush specialty coach, has seen it coming. He saw Rucker’s good hands and quick feet. He saw the burst off the line of scrimmage. He saw how Rucker finished plays.

He saw glimpses, a few plays here, a few plays there. That’s why Pratt continued to wait.

[+] EnlargeFrostee Rucker
AP Photo/Ralph FresoHindered by injuries much of the season, Frostee Rucker has broken out with seven tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble over the past two games.
Last season, it was a matter of opportunity. As a backup behind Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell, Rucker played the fewest snaps of his nine-year career in a season in which he played in all 16 games.

This season, injuries have dogged Rucker. A strained left calf suffered during warm-ups for against San Diego Chargers limited Rucker to three snaps in Week 1 and forced him out of the Week 2 game vs. the New York Giants. He’s also been dealing with a toe issue for the last two seasons, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles said.

“He’s just been one of those guys that we’ve just been kind of waiting for,” Pratt said. “And now it seems like he’s just blossomed here, particularly in the last two weeks.

“He’s had two really good games.”

That’s what Rucker is capable of when healthy. He said a career-high five sacks is a product of opportunity. But it’s more a result of him being as close to 100 percent as he’s been all year.

“That does help being able to run full speed,” Rucker said. “I almost felt like the beginning of the year when I was playing, I was a liability because I couldn’t give it my all and I was almost in the way because I couldn’t run and I couldn’t do the things I know I’m capable of doing.

“But they stuck with me and they let me play and still provide leadership and be in that group, and they let me get through it. And I’m able to play full speed.”

Rucker’s calf injury prevented him from planting and cutting. He couldn’t take on a block. He sees the good fortune of not being placed on injured reserve/designated to return.

The last three months have been tough on Rucker, who found himself in the starting lineup for the first time since 2012, after Darnell Dockett tore his ACL in training camp. His injuries were limiting and his frustration grew, but he assimilated to the starting defensive line by doing what he does best.

“Frostee has always been kind of the 'dirty' player for us,” Bowles said. “Calais [Campbell] and [Darnell] Dockett and Dan [Williams] get all the credit but Frostee does a lot of things in there.

“He does all the right things. He's not a flashy player, but he’s tough. He makes plays and he’s been coming up with some sacks lately. I’m happy for him.”

But what’s gotten into Rucker these last two weeks?

General manager Steve Keim told Rucker he must have found the Fountain of Youth. His teammates on the defensive line think it’s how the football pendulum swings. Sacks, Campbell said, come in bunches, and Rucker has been in the right place at the right time.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Rucker been "an ultimate pro" playing "with pain, he plays relentless, he always does the right thing with the right technique, and he’s so trustworthy."

But Pratt doesn’t think the proverbial light went off for Rucker.

“We knew it was there,” he said. “It was just a question of being able to express himself and that seems to be what he’s going on right now.”

Re-signed to a two-year deal in March, in part because his voice in the locker room carried significant weight with the younger players, Rucker entered the season as a leader one and off the field.

But while he’s been teaching the younger Cardinals, for the first times in Rucker’s career, he's also getting an education beyond what he experienced in Cleveland and Cincinnati.

“The school of football has been huge,” Rucker said. “The education has been huge. Teaching people why they’re calling the plays on downs and distances and different things. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of coaches that were very detailed like that, but I talked to a lot of people around the league and they were never coached like that to understand why they’re calling the call.

“At this stage of my career, I need more mental. I want the knowledge of the game and why they’re calling it and that’s what they’re feeding me and it’s been huge.”
SEATTLE – They bent and bent some more.

Despite giving up more than 100 rushing yards to a team for just the second time this season, the Arizona Cardinals’ defense didn’t break in Sunday’s 19-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

 If the Cardinals’ defense had actually broken, their second loss of the season would’ve been closer to 2012’s blowout at Seattle than Sunday’s defeat .Time and time again, the defense bailed out the offense, only to give them the ball back, only to have to bail them out again.

“It’s OK, there’ll be games like that,” defensive tackle Frostee Rucker. “Maybe some games they carry us when we have a tough outing, and that makes up a team. We’ll be alright. We’ll bounce back. We just got beat today.”

But it wasn’t because of the defense.

Arizona had a season-high seven sacks, five of which came in the first half. Through the first 11 weeks of the season, the Cardinals had seven total first-half sacks.

“This is a different type of offense to get sacks on,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “You know you got a quarterback [who] runs a lot of bootlegs, more so than dropping straight back. We had our chances to get four or five more negative plays, and we just could not tackle him.”

Leading the charge was defensive end Calais Campbell, who had a career- high three sacks Sunday, all coming in the first half.

“I feel like I did a lot better,” Campbell said. “There’s some plays I left out there, that’s just part of the game. For the most part, just went hard and left it all on the field.”

The first half was a continuous cycle of bad field position for the Cardinals leading to good field position for the Seahawks. It started on the opening kick, which Arizona’s Ted Ginn ran out to the Cardinals 10. A three-and-out forced Arizona to punt, giving Seattle possession at the Arizona 49. That drive ended with the Cards forcing a field goal with the first of two red-zone stops by Arizona’s defense. From there, the Cardinals’ defense continued to hold, either forcing the Seahawks to punt or settle for a field goal.

Arizona’s average first-half starting field position was the 18-yard-line, whereas the Seahawks’ was the 43.

The Cardinals held the Seahawks to four field goals -- two of which came on red-zone stands -- and blocked a fifth attempt when Tommy Kelly got his hand on a Steven Hauschka kick late in the second quarter.

But, while the defense was impressive in stopping another top-tier running back, it struggled to slow down Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. He ran for 73 yards -- 39 in the second quarter, alone.

"We did not tackle well early," Arians said. "We obviously didn’t tackle Russell Wilson late very well. We lost on a lot of broken plays. We had the regular play defended extremely well. We just missed tackles."

But the Cardinals held Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch to 39 yards – his lowest total of the season when he’s rushed at least 10 times.

However, for the third time this season, Arizona didn’t cause a turnover.

“We was playing against a great defense and, on the road, you got to outplay their defense,” linebacker Larry Foote said. “You got to create more turnovers, you got to give your offense a short field, and we made plays, but when you play against a good defense, you can’t give up nothing.”
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Sunday wasn’t the true barometer of how Carson Palmer's shoulder was feeling.

That came when Palmer woke up Monday morning, after the pain subsided and Palmer had a chance to sleep on it. But according to Arizona Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, the axillary nerve in Palmer’s right throwing shoulder did not regress after Sunday’s 30-20 win over the Washington Redskins.

“I was concerned until I saw him today,” Arians said. “And then now he feels great, so we should just get better and better and just get stronger.”

Arians said his 34-year-old starting quarterback will hopefully be doing everything in practice this week. Also from the coach:
  • There’s a chance defensive end Calais Campbell can return from his MCL injury but Arians said it’s “very slim.”
  • Right tackle Bobby Massie played “by far his best game.”
  • Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker left the game after re-injuring his left calf. On Monday, Arians compared the injury to Andre Ellington’s foot. “It’s going to be there all year and [he’ll have to] play through it and gut it out,” Arians said. “It was a great performance by him coming back out and giving his presence because he’s a great leader.”
  • Arians said Palmer’s 44 pass attempts was the “norm.” “When we have it that many times and they stack the box like that to stop the run, then we’re going to throw the football. When he says he’s OK, we’re going to go with it.”
  • Arians said he feels the reason defensive backs Jerraud Powers and Rashad Johnson have been playing at such a high level is because of their brains: “Two very, very smart players,” Arians said.
  • The Cardinals had 40 mental errors -- 20 offensively and 20 defensively.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Arizona Cardinals' 30-20 victory over Washington:
  • Mathieu
    Brace bothers the Honey Badger: Safety Tyrann Mathieu said he felt a “bit restricted” on Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s 64-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter because he was wearing a knee brace.
  • Lingering injury: Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker had an ice pack on his left calf after re-injuring it in the first half Sunday. He left the game but eventually returned.
  • Change of heart: While safety Rashad Johnson was returning the second of two interceptions, which he scored on, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was on the sideline yelling for Johnson to get down. Then he changed his tune. “I’m hollering, 'Get down ... nah ... go ahead and score,'" Arians said.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Quarterback Carson Palmer was ruled inactive for Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers.

It was a largely expected decision by the Cardinals, but on Friday coach Bruce Arians left the door open for Palmer to back up Drew Stanton if his right shoulder was feeling better. Third-string quarterback Logan Thomas will back up Stanton.

Defensive tackle Frostee Rucker is active after he and tight end Rob Housler worked out with head trainer Tom Reed during warm-ups. Housler was ruled inactive because of a hip injury. He didn’t practice Thursday or Friday. Rookie Troy Niklas will get his first NFL start in Housler’s place.

Also inactive was nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu, who played just four snaps last week, and recently signed linebacker Victor Butler. He was signed by the Cards on Tuesday. Rookie inside linebacker Glenn Carson was also inactive.

As Arians announced Friday, punter Dave Zastudil and linebacker Alex Okafor were inactive, as well.
Observed and heard in the locker room after the Cardinals' 18-17 victory over San Diego.
  • Secret starter: Cardinals running back Andre Ellington had a good feeling starting Saturday that he’d play Monday night against the Cardinals, but he didn’t want to let on. “We kind of kept it a secret because we weren’t too sure. But I think getting that rest on it helped me out a lot.”
  • Momentous catch: Rookie receiver John Brown said he doesn’t have the football that he scored the game-winning touchdown with, but when he finds it, he’s hoping to frame it. “It’s for my brother.”
  • Rucker appears OK: Frostee Rucker, who left the game in the first quarter because of a calf injury, was standing at his locker following the game and didn’t appear to be in pain.
  • Palmer the runner: When he was informed that he had almost 30 rushing yards, Carson Palmer had a smile as wide as the end zone. He said he hasn’t run for that many yards since high school.
TEMPE, Ariz. – A day after getting an MRI on his left foot, Arizona Cardinals running back Andre Ellington did not practice Friday, according to the team’s official injury report.

He was limited Thursday.

Also missing practice, for the second straight day, was linebacker Alex Okafor (thigh).

Guard Jonathan Cooper (toe), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), safety Tyrann Mathieu (knee), linebacker Kevin Minter (chest) and defensive tackle Frostee Rucker (back) were all listed as fully practicing.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Second-year running back Andre Ellington highlighted the Arizona Cardinals' first injury report of the season.

He was listed as limited because of his foot in Thursday's report.

Linebacker Alex Okafor did not practice because of a thigh injury. He was on the stationary bike Thursday during the open portion of practice. He missed the final 13 weeks of last season because of a torn biceps.

Also on the injury report were G Jonathan Cooper (toe), WR Larry Fitzgerald (knee), S Tyrann Mathieu (knee), LB Kevin Minter (chest) and DT Frostee Rucker (back). All were listed as full practice participants.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If the name on the back of his jersey didn't give away that Frostee Rucker was on the field, it would've been hard to tell that Darnell Dockett wasn't lining up at defensive tackle.

Rucker had two tackles in place of Dockett against his former team Sunday, but he said Dockett's absence was loud and clear.

"It was a lot different," Rucker said. "Just how vocal of a leader he is and his presence, but next man up and you got to play ball.

"The D-line, we played consistent. We did our jobs, didn't (let them) run the ball, we didn't let the quarterback out of the pocket, running down the field and we're OK with that."

Basically, the Cardinals' defensive line didn't miss a beat without Dockett in the Cardinals' 19-13 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday night. It held Cincinnati to a three-and-out on the Bengals opening drive and allowed just five plays on Cincinnati's second drive. That was followed by a four-and-out.

Arizona allowed 40 total yards in the first quarter -- one of which was on the ground -- and forced three punts on third down.

By time their first-team defense traded its cleats for sneakers, the Cardinals allowed just 41 rushing yards in the first half, 40 of which came on two long drives in the second quarter that totaled 23 plays and ate up almost 10 minutes

"Our run defense is going to be fine," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. "I have no qualms about what we're going to be able to do to stop the run. It's being able to rush the passer that still concerns me."

The Cardinals didn't sack either of the Bengals' quarterbacks, Andy Dalton or Jason Campbell, Sunday, and they recorded just two quarterback hurries.

Arians said the Cards' four-man rush concerned him most.

"We can't just live and die by the blitz," he said.

Getting outside linebacker John Abraham back to full speed after he missed almost the first three weeks of camp will improve the pass rush, which was neutralized at times by Cincinnati's max protection, Rucker said.

The closest Arizona came to a sack was on an outside blitz by rookie safety Deone Bucannon in the second quarter. He hit Dalton at his ankles but Dalton was still able to complete a pass.

Arians was pleased with Abraham's pressure, but the 36-year-old played more than Arians wanted him to. The anchor of the Cards' pass rush, defensive end Calais Campbell, needed Sunday to get back into form, which could return the pass rush back to the level that'll please Arians.

"That is something we can do and will do very well," Arians said. "I think today, we didn't do it very well, especially me. I feel like I didn't have my best game pass rushing. My last drive I started feeling good, feeling how I need to feel going into the season. That's what preseason is for, to get the feel right."

Observation Deck: Arizona Cardinals

August, 24, 2014

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- For much of the first half, the Arizona Cardinals' starting offense looked too familiar. It played like last year’s offense, especially quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw one interception that was returned for a touchdown in the Cardinals' 19-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and had two others go either off or through the hands of Bengals’ defenders.

With impressive protection from the offensive line, Palmer threw for just 92 yards on 7-of-19 passing while not leading the first-team offense on a scoring drive for the first time all preseason.

Here are some other thoughts on the Cardinals' third preseason game of the season:
  • Veteran kicker Jay Feely might have sealed his own fate late in the first quarter by missing a 48-yard field goal wide right. Cardinals coach Bruce Arians has been clear that his first requirement for a kicker to make the team is making his field goals. If all is equal after field goals, then kickoffs will decide who stays and who goes. Feely’s two kickoffs both went 9 yards deep. Rookie Chandler Catanzaro hit a 23-yard field goal and sent one of his two kickoffs nine yards deep and the other out of the end zone.
  • Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles used a variety of formations and combinations Sunday night, but nose tackle Dan Williams had to sprint off the field every time he went from a base to the Cards’ nickel defense, which seemed like nearly every other play in first quarter. But the defense, as a whole, played well with defensive tackle Frostee Rucker in place of the injured Darnell Dockett, holding the Bengals to just 14 offensive plays for 40 yards in the first quarter.
  • Kenny Demens is finally looking like he’s coming into his own. His four first-half tackles showed off Demens' power up the middle and his newfound quickness. Demens tracked down a short pass to the right side from Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton to receiver A.J. Green in the second quarter to make the tackle. With the severity of Kevin Minter's pectoral injury unknown, Demens might be getting more reps with the first team, and coupling him with veteran Larry Foote might be to the Cardinals’ benefit. Foote started the game with two straight tackles and finished with three. The 34-year-old looked quick in the box, and the pair’s only mistakes seemed to come when Bengals tight end Jermaine Greshman got behind them for a 33-yard catch.
  • The addition of Ted Larsen as the first-team left guard was seamless. Palmer didn’t get sacked in the first half and was given plenty of time to throw. Larsen may have played well enough to keep the job through the beginning of the season.
  • Don’t read much into Jaron Brown or Ted Ginn not playing much with the first team in the first half. John Brown needed more time with the starters, but Jaron Brown and Ginn have showed throughout camp and the preseason that they’re worthy of first-team reps.

Cardinals Camp Report: Day 17

August, 20, 2014
GLENDALE, Ariz. – A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Arizona Cardinals training camp:
  • Tyrann Mathieu made his long-awaited return to the field Wednesday, participating in a few individual defensive back drills as expected. He sat out contact periods and spent time running with former LSU teammate Kevin Minter on the Cards’ side field.
  • It didn’t take long for Arizona’s latest addition to start making an impact. Defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga signed Wednesday afternoon and was at practice soon after. He was playing with the first-team defense, lining up at nose tackle at times. He said it wasn’t difficult to sign a contract, throw on a jersey and take the field, all in the course of about an hour. “No way,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for 11 years.”
  • Arizona’s starting defensive front is likely to be Frostee Rucker, Dan Williams and Calais Campbell on the line, with John Abraham and Matt Shaughnessy coming off the edges.
  • On one play Wednesday, Abraham came off the edge and got into the backfield quick enough that when backup quarterback Drew Stanton turned around to find a receiver, Abraham was in his face disrupting the play.
  • Rookie Ed Stinson was part of the Cards’ nickel defensive front.
  • Ted Larsen's versatility was on display again. As the Cardinals’ backup center, he worked with Stanton during center-quarterback exchange drills, but Larsen and starting center Lyle Sendlein switched quarterbacks to get extra reps.
  • The defense looked strong again. Shaughnessy came down with an interception off a Stanton pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by safety Tony Jefferson. Later in practice, Jerraud Powers picked off rookie Logan Thomas during 7-on-7 drills.
  • The Cardinals spent the majority of their 11-on-11 periods working on either the run or deep passes. Jaron Brown made another big pass look easy when he grabbed a catch over cornerback Eddie Whitley. Carson Palmer and running back Andre Ellington even got in on the fun, connecting on a deep ball.
  • Jay Feely and Chandler Catanzaro will split the kicking duties Sunday against Cincinnati. Feely will kick in the first half and Catanzaro in the second. On Wednesday, Feely went 5-for-5, hitting from 23, 32, 39, 38 and 47 yards, respectively. Catanzaro hit his first two from 23 and 33 and then missed his final three from 41, 40 and 47.
  • Injury report: Minter (pec), T Max Starks (ankle) and G Jonathan Cooper (toe) didn’t practice.
  • Arizona holds its second to last training camp practice Thursday from 2-4:30 p.m. at University of Phoenix Stadium. Admission and parking are free.
This wasn’t quite the type of scenario the Arizona Cardinals were preparing for, but they were ready if they needed to replace Darnell Dockett.

It was impossible for the Cards to predict that Dockett would tear his ACL in Monday's practice and face season-ending knee surgery, but waiting in the wings is a trio who's ready to fill his void.

As of Monday afternoon, the threesome included Arizona's immediate answer to Dockett's injury as well as the future.

Veteran defensive end Frostee Rucker will step into Dockett's spot in the starting lineup beginning Wednesday. Entering his ninth season, Rucker is two seasons removed from starting all 16 games for Cleveland in 2012, when he had four sacks and 48 tackles. A season earlier, he had 60 tackles and four sacks while starting 11 of 16 games for Cincinnati.

Rucker has been playing well in camp, and, at 30, is capable of being an every-down lineman. He's had three quarterback hurries, two tackles and two stops in 40 plays this preseason, according to Pro Football Focus.

Behind Rucker will be a pair of rookies drafted in May with the idea they'd be the future of the defensive line.

Ed Stinson is the better prepared of the two to replace Dockett. He's similar in size at 6-foot-4 and 287 pounds and is stronger in the interior. He was Rucker's backup Monday when the Cardinals resumed practice after Dockett's injury. At Alabama, Stinson had just 1.5 sacks along with 42 tackles while playing all 13 games for the Crimson Tide in 2013. He's flourished against the run during the preseason while playing in 64 snaps, according to PFF.

Kareem Martin is the other rookie defensive lineman who could see a few snaps in place of Dockett, but Martin is built to be a defensive end rather than an interior defensive lineman. He has long arms, and his versatility will land him on the field quickly. Through the first two preseason games, Martin has played at nose tackle and on the edges, including three plays in between Dockett and Calais Campbell.

Added depth might be coming soon.

The Cardinals are expected to meet with free-agent defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, according to a source. And earlier Tuesday, they were briefly linked with Brett Keisel, who reportedly declined an invitation to meet with Arizona before re-signing with Pittsburgh.

Free-agent pickings are slim for now, but if Sopoaga doesn't work out, the Cardinals might wait until the market is flooded with cuts both on Aug. 26 and 30th to restock their depth.
TEMPE, Ariz. -- When Larry Fitzgerald included Frostee Rucker in the list of players that his restructured contract would help sign, a lot of heads were scratched.

But it all made sense Tuesday.

The team announced Rucker was one of three Cardinals who agreed to new contracts shortly after free agency kicked off Tuesday afternoon. And with Karlos Dansby chasing the money to Cleveland, Rucker now becomes the leader in the locker room. He’s a well-respected veteran, and even though he’s a back-up, Rucker leads by example as well as with his words.

“Some guys have gaudy numbers," Fitzgerald told earlier this month. "I know his numbers weren't crazy high. In terms of locker room guy, you can't ask for a better teammate. He busts his ass every day.

"He's not cliquey. He has a personality that meshes with everybody. You can't have enough glue guys in the locker room.”

Last season, Rucker had 14 tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss, nine quarterback pressures and eight quarterback hits. That earned Rucker, 30, a two-year contract worth up to $2.4 million with $600,000 guaranteed, according to a league source.

When Dansby returned to the Cardinals last offseason, he quickly became the elder statesman of the locker room, a role that’ll be inherited by the straight-shooting Rucker.
Frostee Rucker has been turning heads since he was in high school in Southern California.

That's when his unique first name started making waves as he became a high school football star. His name again turned heads in early February.

When Larry Fitzgerald was making his rounds through Radio Row at the Super Bowl, he was constantly asked about whether he was open to restructuring his mega contract in order to give the Cardinals breathing room with their cap space -- we all know he restructured two days after the Super Bowl. But what was interesting was that in Fitzgerald's response to those questions, he always mentioned that by restructuring, he would help the Cardinals re-sign veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby, young Patrick Peterson ... and Rucker.

Yes, Fitzgerald believed that by restructuring, the Cardinals could bring back a 30-year-old backup defensive end who had just 14 tackles and an interception in 343 snaps. It clearly wasn't because of his stats.

Indeed, it wasn't.

Fitzgerald has been so adamant about the Cardinals having room to re-sign Rucker because of his reputation and presence in the locker room.

"Some guys have gaudy numbers," Fitzgerald said. "I know his numbers weren't crazy high. In terms of locker room guy, you can't ask for a better teammate. He busts his ass every day.

"He's not cliquey. He has a personality that meshes with everybody. You can't have enough glue guys in the locker room.

"[If there are issues in the locker room] he's a guy that will address it. Those guys are so valuable to your team. He's been great in our locker room. I think he's very important. I don't know what the Cardinals' views are. I'm just speaking of me personally."