Always a Tiger

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.--Martin Rucker is one of the most successful and esteemed players in recent Missouri history and perhaps of all-time. After earning All-American honors as a senior, Rucker went on to become a 4th-round draft pick of the Cleveland Browns. Now, he finds himself playing for the Philadelphia Eagles on special teams and as a backup to tight end Brent Celek. At Lorenzo Williams' charity golf tournament in Springfield, Rucker reflected on his time at Mizzou and his hopes for his future in the NFL.
His team, the Philadelphia Eagles, found themselves in the midst of a quarterback controversy early this off-season when they traded Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb to the division rival Washington Redskins. Rucker thinks they can put that behind them and have another successful season, however.
"I think we're going to play well," he said. "You know, we've got a new quarterback and that's a question mark that everyone has, but I think we'll be fine. We all have confidence in our guy and I think he's a good player."
He said one day he hopes to be a starting tight end in the NFL, but for now he realizes he's unlikely to get many opportunities behind Brent Celek, who just signed a long-term deal with the Eagles.
"What I want to do is get on the field and stand out positively on special teams and on offense," Rucker said. "Those opportunities that they give me to show what I can do, I'd like to stand out and make plays and hopefully get more and more opportunities and continue to progress."
Rucker has spent a lot of time back in Columbia this off-season, training with former teammates and coaches in between mini-camp and training camp. He said he still keeps in touch with many of his former teammates and coaches.
"We talk quite a bit," he said. "I talk to position coaches, the strength staff, everybody throughout the season, and you know they keep track of us just like we keep track of them."
That kind of atmosphere has been a large part of Mizzou's success in recent years according to Rucker.
"That's huge and I think that's part of the reason why everything is going so well right now because it's like a family," he said. "You know, everybody trusts everybody, everybody is friends with everybody and when you're playing for a friend and not just some guy on the team, that elevates your play a little bit."
He and other former players, including Jeremy Maclin, Sean Weatherspoon, Danario Alexander and Darnell Terrell have returned to Columbia to work out together this off-season. Rucker said that says a lot about the strength and conditioning staff at MU.
"We get the same stuff here for free that other guys go places and pay for," Rucker said. "And that's a testament to the strength staff, because they travel and they do their homework and work really hard to make sure the guys are doing cutting-edge exercises and using cutting-edge equipment."
There is also a level of comfort that Rucker says former players enjoy with the familiar training staff in Columbia.
"We know what we're getting versus going somewhere [where] maybe they've got a little bit of this of what we want, but they're missing this... versus here where they've got it all and we know it."
Rucker credits the spread offense that Head Coach Gary Pinkel implemented when Brad Smith took over at quarterback with improving his chances to become an NFL tight end. He said the hybrid position he played in college is exactly what coaches are looking for now.
"It made me into the player I am today," he said. "Running all those routes, catching all those balls, that's kind of the way tight ends in the NFL are going. So for me doing that for four years... the only thing that hindered it a little bit is we didn't do it out of a 3-point stance. But all the tools of route-running, and catching the ball, and body control - it helped tremendously."
Rucker will remain in Columbia to work out with former Tigers standouts for the rest of the week, then he heads back East to start training camp with the Eagles. There, him and Maclin will begin preparing for the Eagles' season opener on Sept. 12th against the Green Bay Packers.
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