When Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck was in the prime of his career with the New York Giants, he ranked as one of the best at his position in the NFL.
The former Notre Dame standout earned two Pro Bowl berths and was first-team All-Pro one season in New York, where he had four seasons with 10 or more sacks. The 6-foot-5, 268-pounder was quick and strong and was one of the leaders on the Giants’ terrific defense.
Plus, on the Giants, Tuck had the ultimate respect of his peers and coaches. When Tuck left New York after the 2013 season, one Giants teammate told ESPN.com: “Leadership is big. I don’t know if you can replace a guy like Tuck.”
Now set to enter his second season with the Raiders, Tuck, at 32, isn’t near the player he was. In his first season in Oakland, Tuck was durable, starting 15 games, but had just five sacks and was in on 43 tackles.
But when Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie signed Tuck as a free agent, he hoped to add Tuck’s leadership and professional approach as much as his abilities as a pass rusher. That’s something new head coach Jack Del Rio already appreciates. He says Tuck has brought leadership and a great attitude to workouts through this offseason.
“Tuck has that experience and brings some of that wisdom to the group, so I think that’s very important,” Del Rio told reporters recently. “A guy that’s been there at the highest level understands what it takes. So a guy like that, that’s buying into your message and doing the things that need to be done and helping others, that’s a positive factor for you.”
Tuck, in fact, has been outspoken this offseason about how enthusiastic he is about the Raiders’ chances of making a big leap forward in 2015.
He tweeted in May that the Raiders --- who were 3-13 in 2014 – would be a winning team in 2105. “8-8 would be a disappointment,” he wrote.
Tuck likes the new coaching staff, the free-agent and rookie acquisitions and the way last year’s rookies – quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Khalil Mack – have made an impact.
“There are a lot of young players who grew up very quickly, especially at the quarterback position,” Tuck told reporters. “Khalil Mack comes to mind. The biggest thing for us is taking that foundation that has been set and what we did in the back end of (the 2014 season) and … building on it.”