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"Gritty" Frostee Rucker Comes Through For Cardinals

Veteran defensive end has proven valuable as Dockett replacement

DE Frostee Rucker takes down Rams quarterback Shaun Hill for a sack

Frostee Rucker isn't looking for the cameras.

That's tough when you're playing in the NFL, or when you've stepped up to play a vital role for the team with the best record in the NFC, or when your name is Frostee as Christmas approaches.

"He doesn't like all the attention that comes with it," fellow defensive end and locker neighbor Calais Campbell said. "He'd rather just do his job."

Rucker has certainly done his job this season, which has been one of the reasons the Cardinals have been able to sustain the season they've built. The day Darnell Dockett wrecked his knee in training camp, it was yet another blow to a defense that seemed to be absorbing too many to make it work.

Rucker was the one to step into the starting lineup. Then, as now, he had no desire to make a big deal about the move. But he also

didn't doubt he would be able to fulfill whatever task defensive coordinator Todd Bowles might require.

"I had all the confidence in my ability, my family does, anyone who knows me, the way I prepare the way I practice the way I play, I knew," Rucker said. "It's a heck of a guy to try and fill the shoes of, but at the same time I knew what I could do."

He's collected five sacks this season – three in the past two games as the Cards have regained their winning ways – and set the tone in St. Louis by swamping dynamic Rams rookie running back Tre Mason for a five-yard loss on the game's first play.

Rucker shrugs off his production, noting a lot has to do with opportunity. Last season, with Campbell and Dockett healthy, the Cardinals used Rucker on only 356 defensive snaps all season – or 32.5 percent of the total defensive snaps. At one point, he even asked to play special teams just to get on the field more often.

This year, Rucker – who missed a game with a calf injury – has already played 394 snaps with two games to go, or 46 percent of the defensive snaps.

Bowles noted Rucker has dealt with a toe injury during both seasons and called Rucker "gritty."

"Frostee's always been kind of the dirty player for us," Bowles said. "Calais and Dockett and Dan (Williams) get all the credit but Frostee does a lot of things in there."

That has only increased the last couple of weeks, when the Cardinals needed to turn around after a couple of disappointing performances.

"These last few weeks you see him make big play after big play after big play in critical moments, sparking the team," Campbell

said. "You can see in his eyes his work is not done."

That was part of the reason Rucker stuck around after playing out the one-year contract he signed as a free agent in 2013. Even if he didn't play as much as he might have wanted behind Dockett and Campbell, he wanted to stay in Arizona. He even passed on a couple of offers that might have paid him more elsewhere – Rucker declined to get into it – just so he could re-sign a two-year deal in Arizona.

He saw what the franchise was building and how Bruce Arians coached the team. Rucker loves how the pieces have all fit and how the chemistry had blossomed. It's why the whole "Next Man Up" thing has worked.

Rucker loves "the process of getting to Sunday to get the win, the work and the studying." The act of being a professional.

That's why he can handle the media scrums even if they aren't something he seeks out. At 31, he understands, just like he long ago learned to deal with his unique name. Frostee is his given name granted by his military father Len, who as a disc jockey was called "DJ Frost" by his fellow soldiers. "Frostee" just seemed like a good option to call his son.

Rucker hated the name growing up, especially when the holidays approached. But he's embraced it -- his nickname is "Snowman." And of late, the Snowman cometh for the Cardinals, at a time when they have needed him.

"At this stage of my career, when you don't know if they will invite you back next year because they start looking at you as a number, this is exciting," Rucker said. "It's a good time in my life. There's a lot of positive things going on, we're winning, and I'm happy."

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