GLENDALE, Ariz. – It is the cruel, seemingly insensitive nature of football.
When a player gets hurt, the sport does not stop. It moves on without you, providing an opportunity for someone else.
It’s next man up, a familiar refrain around the NFL.
The next man up for the Arizona Cardinals is veteran Frostee Rucker following the season-ending knee injury suffered by Darnell Dockett in practice Monday.
“It’s terrible for him,” head coach Bruce Arians said of Dockett, but “it’s a great opportunity for somebody else…and we’ll just keep moving on like we always do. One injury is not going to change who we are or what we do.”
Rucker is going into his ninth year, second with the Cardinals.
“Frostee has been playing probably the best I’ve ever seen him play,” Arians said.
Acquired as a free agent in 2013 after spending his first seven seasons with Cincinnati and then Cleveland, Rucker played in all 16 games last season, including one start, totaling 14 tackles and one sack.
He started a career-high 16 games with the Browns in 2012 and posted 48 tackles, four sacks, a forced fumble and a pass defensed.
“Frostee is a great player. He can play the game at a high level. He’s been a starter in this league,” said Calais Campbell, who expects to take on a larger leadership role in Dockett’s absence. “That’s the way the game is you have guys that can play—backups are supposed to be capable and now they become starters. We’re fortunate to have a guy who was a starter before as a starter now.”
The Cardinals will also look to a pair of rookies in Kareem Martin, a third-round pick out of North Carolina, and Ed Stinson, drafted in the fifth round after a four-year run at Alabama. Both are big, physical presences -—Martin is 6’6″ and 272 pounds, while Stinson is 6’4″ and 287 pounds -— but, again, neither has taken a regular season snap.
“We’ve got young guys who have the ability to be great players in this league, but usually you have a little time to grow up. Because of this situation now they’ve got to grow up a little faster,” Campbell said.
Added Arians, “Ed Stinson has made great progress. Kareem, in the passing game is playing pretty solid. He’s got to pick it up a little bit as far as his run stopping ability.”
The other option, in addition to working out a couple of players to “see if they can help us in any way” according to Arians, is to slide Dan Williams over from his nose tackle position.
“I played a little bit (at defensive end) last year, toward the end of the season,” Williams said. “I’m definitely going to do anything the coaches ask me. I’ll do anything for the team.”
Of course none of the above will completely fill the void left by Dockett, a three-time Pro Bowler, who, dating back to 2007, has more sacks (34.5) than any other defensive tackle.
“Coach always preaches next man up,” Williams said. “Everybody else on the team has to step up. Everybody just has to play better and make sure (to) be more keen on what we’re doing, where we need to be because a lot times a guy like Dockett you can make a mistake, but he was athletic enough and good enough he could cover up a mistake. It’s just now, we’ve just got to rally together and just get better with the guys that we still have and still try to attain our goal of being the best defense in the NFL.”