Dealing Cards: Rucker, Arians have ‘transparent conversations’
GLENDALE, Ariz. – How the loss of defensive tackle Calais Campbell affects the Arizona Cardinals on the field remains to be seen.
Campbell was an imposing figure, literally and figuratively, along the defensive line. He often faced double teams, hurting his individual numbers. But in doing so, he greatly enhanced the stats of others, especially those rushing the quarterback.
Off the field, Campbell, who signed a free-agent deal with Jacksonville, was among the unquestioned leaders in the locker room. So too was — and still is — fellow lineman Frostee Rucker.
“To have him in there, it’s invaluable,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “You can’t put a price tag on what he brings to the whole defense, not just to that (defensive line) room.”
Still, without Campbell, does Rucker now feel he needs to expand his role?
“Yeah, usually you guys would be talking to him,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd of reporters who had surrounded his locker prior to Thursday’s practice.
Entering his 12th season and fifth with the Cardinals, Rucker prefers to lead by example.
“Yeah, he’s not looking for accolades and all those things. He just wants to make sure everybody is doing it right,” Arians said. “He tells me when he thinks we need something, which I respect. And when he tells me, ‘hey, we need to work harder or we need to work less’ I’ll listen.”
The relationship between player and coach is an important one.
Rucker said he and Arians are able to have “transparent conversations that I can get feedback so I can tell the guys in the locker room. The one thing about this team, we’re not shy of working and working hard. We know the little things that we’re doing and the things we’re trying to perfect is going to help us in the long run.
“That’s the only thing that I can say is keeping our minds right at being (in) Glendale right about now, because if it wasn’t for us not having the best season last year, I think the mind frame would be a little bit different, but everyone is embracing this work.”
No one more than perhaps Rucker himself. He’s finally healthy.
Last season, Rucker battled through both knee and ankle injuries. He played in 13 games, making one start, but never felt right physically.
Like with many of the veterans on the team, the Cardinals are monitoring Rucker’s practice reps, including the occasional day off, which Rucker enjoyed Wednesday.
“I feel great,” he said. “This whole offseason has been about training myself for the long distance, and I did a good job and I want to continue to just keep working until we get where we want to be.”
And presumably that’s not in front of a bunch of microphones, though Rucker admitted he’s OK with being the media’s go-to player.
“It’s growing on me. I didn’t run away today,” he said, smiling.
Starters play more in preseason
The plan for the second preseason game in a row is for the starters to play no more than a quarter — some 15-20 plays against the Chicago Bears, according to Arians. Fifteen plays is exactly what the first-team offense received last week when the Raiders visited.
Arians said Thursday he hopes his starters see more playing time than they did a year ago. He wants them to be in better game shape, though he acknowledged that’s not easy in the preseason without risking injury.
Last season, quarterback Carson Palmer was on the field for 40 snaps, while many of the defensive regulars saw between 28-35 snaps.
“We’re trying to not overdue it, especially certain guys who don’t need it,” Arians said.
A lot has been made over David Johnson’s preseason touches. He had three in the first four plays of the game against the Raiders before calling it a day.
In a perfect world, according to Johnson, he would get a handful of plays “where I have to pick up a blitz, run the ball obviously. Hopefully, get one play of each scenario,” he said.
For Rucker, who was on the field for eight defensive plays last week, the more action the better.
“There’s more of an emphasis for the starters to take preseason games more serious. Before we were more concerned with, we’re only going to play five plays so just get out of it healthy,” he said. “But now, it’s like, just bring it on. We’ve been in Glendale so long it’s like, I don’t care if I have to play the whole game, just let me play and hit someone else for a change.”
Final practice before Bears game
With a game in two days, the Cardinals practiced in shells, a welcome relief after three straight days in full pads. The team was on the field for exactly two hours inside University of Phoenix Stadium.
Among the highlights:
– Give Palmer time to throw and he’ll beat you every time which he did early in 11-on-11, finding Jaron Brown for a 55-yard touchdown down the middle of the field.
– There were several deep balls that connected, including Drew Stanton finding Chad Williams and Blaine Gabbert hitting Chris Hubert.
– The offense enjoyed one of its better afternoons, especially in the passing game. Palmer had scoring passes to Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown in red zone work.
– Stanton finished practice working with the 1s as Palmer watched with his helmet by his side and his left knee wrapped in ice.
– Defensively, Justin Bethel and Harlan Miller recorded interceptions, the latter on a deflection.
– Robert Nkemdiche blew up a play — OK, he was offsides, which has become a daily occurrence in camp — and received a fist-bump from offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin.
– Markus Golden and Chandler Jones spent some time, just the two of them, working on pass-rush moves and hand placement when their unit was not on the field.
– Matt Wile shanked a punt so bad Mike Iupati caught it one-handed on the sidelines off a bounce, which drew a nice reaction from his fellow offensive linemen.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby (leg) participated in position drills, while linebacker Terence Waugh showed ill effects from leaving practice the day before with what appeared to be a leg issue. And receiver Carlton Agudosi (ankle) was back practicing.
Those players who did not see the practice field Thursday included linebackers Jarvis Jones (back) and Philip Wheeler (foot), receiver Brittan Golden, cornerback Rudy Ford (hamstring) and defensive tackle Ed Stinson (hamstring). Deone Bucannon (ankle) remains on the physically unable to perform list.
Follow Craig Grialou on Twitter