Defensive end Frostee Rucker (98) talks with defensive line coach Brentson Buckner during a recent OTA.
Frostee Rucker had big shoes to fill when he was signed by the Cardinals as part of an overhauled roster.
But he wasn't just taking the place of one large pair of cleats in the locker room. Rucker had to fill the voids left by Nick Eason and Vonnie Holliday, two veteran defensive linemen with large shoes whose most important contributions to the team came as mentors to their younger teammates.
Rucker fit right in.
"In the short time he's been here, he's been helping guys with hands, feet," defensive tackle Dan Williams said. "He sometimes reiterates some things that (defensive line coach Brentson) Buck(ner) tells us and breaks it down for us.
"He uses coaches' lingo so the young guys kinda understand. He teaches the young guys how to take notes. He's definitely been a big help to us so far."
Rucker's transition to a defensive line, whose core of Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell and Williams
remained the same despite a drastic overhaul of almost every other position except wide receiver, was seamless. He's laid back and a jokester, Williams said, which instantly endeared him to his new teammates.
Rucker didn't want to ruffle any feathers when he was signed so he let his assimilation to the team come organically.
"When you come into a new team or new situation you try to stay in your lane," Rucker said. "Those guys have already developed friendships and you're the new guy in the group. All I can do is lead by example on my end."
Rucker was constantly studying the playbook, not just because it was a new scheme but because it's "a difficult system to pick up and the coaches are challenging us to be perfect." He got to the locker room early and stayed late.
Rucker passed on plenty of tips he picked up in his eight years in the league. He taught the rookies how to take notes during meetings and how to study those notes. And he stressed to the younger players the importance of not just listening to what the coaches say but to understand why they're saying it.
Linebacker Matt Shaughnessy's perspective on Rucker is different than his neighbors'. He doesn't sit in the defensive line meetings so he hasn't seen Rucker work through a playbook with the younger players but, with his locker in the middle of the linemen, he watches Rucker's daily interaction with his teammates.
"He's giving young guys pointers and all those tips to get by," Shaughnessy said. "He's teaching guys how to practice and how to be in the weight room. I'd say he's a good person for the younger guys to look up to."
Especially David Carter.
The two hit it off immediately because of their college rivalries. Both are from California but Rucker went to the USC and Carter played at UCLA. Carter, entering his third season, has learned how to improve his technique from the older, wiser veteran.
"Just how to see the game, thinking like a coach," Carter said. Rucker taught them how to "read the offensive line's eyes, (their) backset. That's where he's helped me out the most.
"I do feel like he is kinda like Vonnie, taking the same role as a player."
Rucker hasn't survived in the NFL for eight years solely on talent.
He understands the game is as mental as it physical, if not more, and he's tried to relay that to his younger brethren in the locker room.
With his third team in three years, Rucker has learned to put the collective ahead of the individual. He doesn't see mentoring as a threat to his playing time.
"At this point it's just all about one group," Rucker said. "It sounds cliché when they say, 'one heartbeat' and stuff like that but it really is. If you can't help the next man just being a person, you have no business doing what you do. There's no selfishness. This is all being professional.
"We all need each other and we all got to lean on each other to get where we want to go."