KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Frostee Rucker could have shut it down in August.
In his situation, some might have.
There he was, a 13-year NFL veteran, a month shy of his 35th birthday, on the field during the fourth quarter of the Raiders’ first exhibition. He shared a field with several young players who wouldn’t make the 53-man roster, soon to be waived or traded. Many of his veteran teammates stood on the sideline, laughing over sunflower seeds; they changed out of their pads at halftime.
He played on.
“Year 13,” Rucker said. “It’s a humbling experience.”
That Aug. 10 outing against the Detroit Lions ended in fitting fashion. Rucker, surrounded by rookies, clinched a 16-10 win with a fumble recovery in the final minute. He kept playing. He led the roster’s youth. And he didn’t stop. Rucker has embraced an important leadership role for the Raiders, whose season will conclude Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs.
At 4-11, there will be no playoffs for these Raiders.
No one can predict when their roster’s construction will manifest into a postseason return.
Should that happen in the coming years, Rucker will be remembered as one of the men who built the foundation. Such has been the nature of his locker-room influence.
“He’s been extremely helpful,” said defensive tackle Mo Hurst Jr., a rookie fifth-round pick. “He’s someone that’s kind of done it all and seen it all, as far as being a pro and an NFL player and playing 13 seasons. He just knows. He has been through everything, so you can really talk to him about all aspects of the game, whether it’s about life or technique, coaching. Just how to go about being a pro and not making some of the same mistakes that he may have made early in his career.”
The co-captain not only seeks opportunities to guide young players.
He looks out for them.
This month, he suggested to coach Jon Gruden that all 10 members of the practice squad be invited to stand on the sideline, rather than their place inside a stadium suite, for a Dec. 9 home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Gruden agreed. Rucker similarly influenced the decision to allow the practice squad, which doesn’t travel to road games, to make the Dec. 14-16 trip to Cincinnati for a game against the Bengals.
“We all got our own (hotel) room,” defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. “It was a good treat for guys.”
In June, Rucker joined the club on a one-year contract.
He expected — and trained accordingly — to be a defensive tackle. He hadn’t regularly played defensive end since the 2014 season. But the latter is where the Raiders thought he served the team. He mostly has worked outside, logging 34 tackles, 10 quarterback hurries and four quarterback hits without a sack, according to Pro Football Focus.
His number of hurries and hits rank second on the team.
“He’s been great off the field for our guys,” Gruden said. “Been great on the practice field and versatile. That’s how he’s made it so long in this league. He’s been able to play defensive tackle, defensive end, right end, left end, sub nickel. Whatever package you’re playing, he can play in. That’s one of the reasons that he continues to play pretty good. He knows what to do, and he’s versatile.”
Rucker began playing football at age 7.
He entered the league in 2006. Rookie defensive end Arden Key was 9 at the time.
This past week, it was natural to ask Rucker whether he thinks Sunday could be the final game of his NFL career. Such a decision requires careful thought. He plans to mull the decision this offseason. But his instinct is to continue fighting and playing through it.
That reflex is what pushed him through the preseason.
“We’ll see how it lands,” Rucker said. “Deep down, I know my ability. I know I can play. I know if I train the right way for the position, that I can be way better at it. That’s the bright side of things. Second tier of that is how my body actually recovers, how my family feels about one more year or two, whatever it may be.
“I’ll cross that bridge pretty soon. I’m just going to play as hard as I can for this group of men come Sunday and finish this 2018 off the right way.”