Injuries often force teams to play chess with their roster. But in the case of the Eagles' Martin Rucker, his promotion from the practice squad had more to do with tight end's work in practice and little to do with Brent Celek's back injury.
"That's not why we brought Rucker up," head coach Andy Reid said. "I just thought he's practiced worthy of being on the roster. When you're on practice squad you risk him being able to go somewhere else. I'd like him here as an Eagle."
Philadelphia's practice squad has lost a number of players to other teams' active rosters this season, including wide receiver Danny Amendola (Rams), fullback Marcus Mailei (Saints) and offensive lineman Mike Gibson (Seahawks). But not Rucker.
A fourth-round pick of the Browns in 2008, Rucker was jettisoned by the new Eric Mangini regime on Sept. 22. and was added to the Eagles' practice squad two days later.
Rucker said his release by Cleveland was a wake-up call.
"It was the first time I'd been cut. It was an eye-opener," Rucker said. "I learned not to get comfortable, but to always want to get better. When I came here, that's what I wanted to do. I focused more on my blocking and also on my receiving skills."
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Rucker did more in the pass game collegiately at Missouri and Reid said his inexperience as a blocker may have led to his release by Cleveand.
"At Cleveland they weren't in a position where they could wait for that development. They moved on and that's our gain here," Reid said. "He is trying to put himself in a position where he can block and be respectable there. He's added some weight and strength and he's worked like crazy to get that part of his game down. Is he where he wants to be? No, not yet. But he's working at it and I think he'll get there. As a receiver he's very, very talented and he's improved tremendously as a blocker."
Rucker played as more of a flexed-out tight end in Missouri's spread offense. He shattered the school's season record and Big 12 Conference record for tight ends with 84 catches. His 203 career catches also were a record.
Playing against the Eagles' first-team defense, Rucker said he proved to himself -- and to the coaches -- that he can indeed play at this level.
"It's just like a game because in practice that is my game," Rucker said. "Being on the practice squad, it's my job to practice hard and give these guys a good look; but also I wanted to take a look at my skills and see how I was measuring up against these guys who are the first-team defense.
"Everything that I learned I tried to hone it all in while I was on the practice squad with no pressure because it's easier when everybody's not relying on you to do it. So that was my time to take a look inside myself and say 'I can play with these guys. Now all you need is the opportunity to go show it.'"
For Rucker, that opportunity is now.
-- Posted by Bob Kent, 9:48 p.m., December 17