Rucker quietly out to league lead in sacks

Updated: October 1, 2003, 6:27 PM ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Mike Rucker doesn't care if he gets overlooked in headlines and highlight shows. Tied for the NFL-lead with five sacks this season, Carolina's quiet defensive end is content making his mark on the field.

"I'm that guy who just goes to work with his hard hat and lunch pail," Rucker said Wednesday. "I don't need the extra attention."

That's just the way the Panthers want it, too.

With a defensive line anchored by end Julius Peppers and tackle Kris Jenkins, the Panthers have no problem letting Rucker quietly slip through the cracks.

They figure it won't last too much longer, though.

"Sooner or later, people are going to have to realize you have to stop keying on Julius because you've got a guy over there, No. 93, who is playing lights out right now," defensive tackle Brentson Buckner said. "If he's not the most valuable person on defense, he's at least in the top two."

Each year has been an improvement for Rucker, a fifth-year player out of Nebraska who has steadily increased his impact to Carolina's defense. Since becoming a starter in 2001, he's upped his sacks each season -- he had nine that year and a career-high 10 last season.

In just three games this season, he's already had five sacks, 19 tackles, seven quarterback pressures and one forced fumble. He shares the sack lead with Shaun Ellis of the New York Jets and Leonard Little of the St. Louis Rams, who have both played in four games this season.

"Nobody has ever said that Ruck has the athletic ability like Peppers or the strength like me," Jenkins said. "But Ruck is one of those guys that when he goes out and plays, he's going to give you 115 percent all the time."

There's no question Rucker is benefiting from all the attention the rest of his teammates normally get.

Peppers, who had 12 sacks in 12 games last year, has none this season and is constantly double-teamed. Jenkins has just one.

But coach John Fox refuses to credit Rucker's start to the season to opposing teams leaving him alone while focusing on the rest of the line.

"I don't want to take anything away from what he has accomplished," Fox said. "He still has had to work through an NFL offensive tackle to get to the quarterback. That takes a lot of work and technique."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index