Tuck Should be Ready to Go

<P>A lot of expectations have been placed upon defensive end Justin Tuck. The 6-5, 260-pound defensive end is the now and the future as a pass rusher for the Irish and his health will be vital to the success of the 2003 season. Tuck has been sidelined recently and we spoke to Justin Tuck to get the latest on his injury. </P>

The Irish scrimmaged on Thursday—probably their last day of going full speed. "I didn't practice today," said Tuck. "It's a little aggravated chronic pain in my shoulder but they wanted me to sit out and to keep me fresh. I'll be back out there tomorrow. I should be fine for the game."

The Irish scrimmaged today and from what Irish Eyes gathered, the defense looked very good. "We had a real good scrimmage today. We got a lot of the new guys a lot of reps today. They pretty much stepped up and did a great job. Three out of the top four defensive linemen didn't practice today (Tuck, Cedric Hilliard, Darrell Campbell). They only mustered a field goal today. That just shows the depth and maturity we have at defensive line."

Tuck won't be able to do it all himself but he believes he has the help he needs on the end to create a solid pass rush this fall. "Kyle Budinscak might not be the typical speed rusher yet he gets a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks from bull rushing and doing other things. Jerome (Collins) is probably faster than I am so we have a great corps of different types of people who can put pressure on the quarterback and I think you'll see that we will."

Collins is an intriguing prospect because of his speed and athletic ability. Tuck says Collins is stepping into the role he had last year. "He's plays linebacker a lot and that is what he is focusing on but he is playing in the role that I played last year which was coming in on the nickel. He's got a lot more experience in that this fall and he's doing great out there."

The good news for the Irish this year is the depth they've built along the defensive line. Tuck believes there won't be much of a drop off in talent or production when the second team comes in. "You can take our starting front four out and I don't think we'll miss too many beats. That's just a credit to how much talent we have along the defensive line. Once you give them that chance, you'll see them stepping up. I even saw Victor (Abiamiri) and Trevor Laws stepping up and having some good plays today."

Tuck goes against the offensive line every day in practice. Who better to ask than how the Irish offense has been progressing. "To me, I consider our two tackles some of the best in the country. Dan Stevenson and Jim Molinaro have progressed so much this off-season and gotten a lot stronger and have better footwork. Going against them every day one-on-one you can really see how much they've improved."

"Overall I think we've improved as an offensive line from last year—no knock on what we did last year," Tuck said. "You can see they're hungry and they go out there every day trying to get the job done. They're more of a unit instead of individuals and I think they're going to do a good job."

The Irish defense was very successful for most of the season last year. They played with a lot of emotion and Tuck says that fire is still burning strong inside the heart of the defense. "Being able to play with people like Vontez (Duff)—it's plays when you get tired. You're thinking ‘I wish we could get off the field right now' and he's always got a smile on his face, he could as tired as he's ever been and he's getting everyone going. We've got a lot of people on the team like that—Darrell Campbell, Courtney Watson. We've got some many leaders on this team that its hard not to have the passion to want to go out and beat up on an offense."

Defensive line coach Greg Mattison recently told Irish Eyes that Tuck needs to become a complete player. We asked Tuck if he feels like he's starting to become a complete player. "I think I am. He could've said I was a complete player and I would've still told you I'm not. I never look at myself as the best as I can be—there's always room for improvement."

What would be a good season for Justin Tuck? "I don't really have personal goals—a good season for me is a National Championship—that's my personal goal. I could have one tackle, one sack and one tackle for loss and we win the National Championship and that's success for me. Some people look at it as 20 sacks, if I get 20 sacks, the team got 20 sacks—I'm not doing that by myself so I really don't set personal goals."

Will he be out of the field tomorrow? "Yes sir," said Tuck. Will he be ready for Washington State? "Yes sir," Tuck said.

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