Former Cardinals linebacker Rob Fredrickson forces a fumble during a game in Washington at the end of the 2001 season.
(This year the Cardinals will have an honorary Alumni Captain for each of the 10 home games at University of Phoenix Stadium. This week's Alumni Captain for the home-opener against the Miami Dolphins is linebacker Rob Fredrickson, who played for the Cardinals from 1999-2002).*
In football's age of specialization, teams often use different personnel groupings dictated by factors such as field position, down and distance, and matchups.
But throughout his nine NFL seasons with the Raiders (1994-97), Lions (1998), and Cardinals (1999-2002), Rob Fredrickson would have nothing of the sort. To borrow a baseball term, Fredrickson might have been considered a 'five-tool' football player. He could make the tackle at the line of scrimmage, sack the quarterback, drop off in pass coverage, intercept passes, and recover fumbles.
His career totals support that value and versatility to be on the field for every defensive play. In 128 games (119 starts), Fredrickson rolled up 914 tackles, 16 quarterback sacks, deflected 32 passes, intercepted five others, and recovered five fumbles.
"It was just something I expected to do," Fredrickson said of his play as an every-down linebacker. "It never entered my mind to be a situational player. I always thought I should play every down."
Born in St. Joseph, Michigan, Fredrickson first showcased his athletic talents at St. Joseph High School where he played linebacker, tight end, and defensive back, lettered as a forward on the basketball squad, and starred as a sprinter and relay performer in track.
A three-time all-Big Ten Conference linebacker at Michigan State, he was a sideline-to-sideline defender, and in 1994 the Raiders, still calling Los Angeles home, made him their first-round pick in the NFL Draft, the 22nd player selected overall.
Life was good. "I wasn't taken aback at all," he said of relocating from Lansing, Michigan to the glitzy Los Angeles area. "I liked it. I was living right on the beach. I was a young guy, and finally had some money in my pocket. But in knew I was there for a reason, and that was to play football. I always kept that in perspective."
On the playing field, however, the transition from college to the NFL was not without its trials, which he quickly discovered even before he stepped on the field for his first pro game.
"It was a big adjustment, initially," he says. "The biggest thing I had to adjust to was the speed of the game. Everybody — offensive linemen, linebackers — was just flying around the field. And this was just in our first minicamp, without pads. I knew right then I had to step it up a little."
Fredrickson broke into the Raiders' starting lineup just five games into his first pro season in '94 and earned all-rookie honors with 81 tackles and three sacks. He would be the club's starting strongside linebacker for the next three years, and in 58 games collected 288 tackles, five sacks, and deflected 17 passes.
Though he was traded in 1998, it was a welcome change of scenery in some ways because he was going back to his home state as a member of the Detroit Lions. That year Fredrickson put together perhaps his best season with a career-best 116 tackles and was on the field for over 98 percent of the Lions defensive plays.
In 1999, however, his career took another turn. The Cardinals aggressively pursued Fredrickson in free agency. It was natural for him to sign with the team since he'd already been spending his offseasons in Arizona, having purchased a home in Scottsdale after his rookie campaign with the Raiders.
"It was a really good place to train and work out during the offseason and I had a lot of friends out here," he said. "After being out in California, I got used to the sunshine and Arizona was the ideal place for me."
In his first season with the Cards, Fredrickson was among the top linebackers in the NFC. As a 16-game starter at left linebacker, he finished second on the team with a career-best 167 tackles, intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and led the team with eight tackles for loss. In addition, he set a team modern-era single-game tackle total record with 22 stops against the N.Y. Jets.
Fredrickson started 36 games over the next three years for Arizona before retiring after the 2002 season. And once more, the versatility that underscored his playing days has come in handy. He's been involved in several successful business ventures, proudly calls himself a 'hockey dad' for his three sons ages 11, 7 and 5, and this year has become part of the Cardinals' radio broadcast team.
"I'm excited about a lot of things," he says of the Cards' prospects for the upcoming season, "especially the defense and the depth they have. I really feel they can cycle guys in and not see much drop off in productivity. They've got a shot to be a pretty solid unit this year if they can stay healthy."
Contact Darren Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org. Posted 9/12/08.