Mike Rucker played all nine of his NFL seasons for the Carolina Panthers before retiring in April 2008. He still lives in the Charlotte area with his wife and three kids (ages 13, 11 and 8). Rucker works in real estate and with the NFL Legends program, where he acts as a liaison between retired players and the NFL office.
Five questions with Rucker as we await Friday’s first practice of Panthers training camp:
Q. What will the Panthers’ record be in 2015?
A. I think they’re going to be right around that 9-7 range, give or take a game. September could be a month that could be favorable on the schedule. When you get into October and November, it definitely toughens up.
I think they will win the division again. I think they split with Atlanta and the Saints, and I think they beat Tampa twice. So I think they will get back to the playoffs. They made it last year, after all, and they are a better team this year.
Q. Give me one surprising prediction about the upcoming Carolina season.
A. I think they go to Seattle and I think they win at Seattle this year. I know Seattle has been beating them in close games, year after year, but not this time.
The Panthers have been competitive against the Seahawks over and over and wound up losing the game. I think they’ve seen enough that they aren’t scared of Seattle, and now the Panthers have some better offensive weapons. I think this is the time that they get over the hump.
Q. What’s your biggest concern about the team entering 2015?
A. To me, the question marks are the offensive line and the running backs. .... With the backs, you’ve had two good backs for so many years. It was DeShaun Foster and Stephen Davis, and then they handed the baton off to “Double Trouble” – DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.
Now it’s just Stew. I know there is some young talent that’s exciting to watch, but if somebody gets nicked up, are you still feeling confident in what you have there?
I think the biggest thing is going to be health. If the Panthers can stay healthy at those two positions, they are going to have a really good chance at making some noise.
Q. What sort of season will Cam Newton have?
A. I think he’s hitting his stride. By now he’s seen a lot of things – the blitzes, all the different formations defenses have. I think his career is ready to take off. ... Cam is starting to get confidence that he can move the team down the field 60 yards in 40 seconds, things that the average quarterback doesn’t do. That’s where he’s heading, toward the places that Peyton Manning and Brett Favre and Tom Brady can go.
Q. Do you ever miss playing the game?
A. When I think of training camp and how hot and humid it is right now? Not then.
Ten years ago about this time, my stomach would start turning -- a “good nervous” kind of feeling. I don’t miss that.
When I start to get a little squirrelly is playoff time. When the Panthers have been in the playoffs I’ve been so excited because I know what that feeling is like.
And the Super Bowl every year? That’s when I have flashbacks. Knowing how close we were to winning [Rucker started on the Carolina team that lost 32-29 to New England in the Super Bowl following the 2003 season]. That always boils back up for me. You snap your fingers and think, ‘Oh, so close.’
But we’ve got a good group here now. If I’m able to live it through these guys holding up the trophy, that would be great.