"Practice went really good today," Tuck reported. "Everyone was flying around. We were a little rusty at the beginning, but we did a lot of work on techniques last week which helped us a lot. The bye week did us a lot of good, and we got a lot of help out of the bye week. Everybody was fresh out there and excited to get back out on the field."
As the Irish defense gets ready for Pitt this week, they know they will need to be prepared to stop Pitt's potent passing game. Tuck was asked what the defense is focusing on during this week's practice. "Definitely, the first thing is stopping the run. We know that in Rutherford and Fitzgerald, they have a one-two punch in the pass and we want to make them one-dimensional. We don't want to allow them to run the ball and be able to set up their passing game. So first thing, we want to stop the run and then flying around and being physical. Especially on Rutherford because last year we got a lot of pressure on him and he rattled a little. So our main focus is to go out and play hard and get a win."
Last year Justin backed up Ryan Roberts at defensive end and he became an impact player as a pass rusher in nickel and dime defenses. When asked about the biggest challenge he faced going from a back-up to a starter he stated, "Basically, the big thing is just learning. Every day you learn so much, and you never think you know it all, and every day you have a wide open experience to learn more. With a coach like Coach Mattison, he's always teaching and that's the biggest thing, and not just thinking you know everything because you are a starter."
Injuries were a problem for Tuck last year and it was hoped he would come into this season healthy and be a consistent performer in all situations, not just against the pass. "Basically just the shoulder has been the problem," Justin said."It's a recurring injury from last year. Right now, it's as good as it's been all year so I guess you can call me healthy."
Being an intense and focused competitor, Justin isn't happy with his performance and said one of the things he has to do to get better is to play better against the run. "Definitely get more physical and stop the run," said Tuck when asked where he needs to improve. "With this defense, that's the biggest thing. Getting stronger, keeping my weight up, just going out and playing physical, playing fast and using my speed."
Tuck also could use some more size to help him against the run. "I was about 260 pounds, but I have lost a few and I'm about 252 now. And my body fat is about 4 percent."
Since the Irish are coming off a bye week, we asked Justin how he felt about the bye and how he spent some of his free time. The Kellyton, Alabama native stated, "This bye week came at a great time for the whole team. I went home and spent time with my family on the weekend and that was a great experience. It gave me a chance to get away from things and get another perspective of things. Basically just using the time resting and getting our feet under us and getting focused. It gave us an extra week to figure out our scheme coming into this week."
Justin and the entire Irish defense face a big challenge this weekend, but if they all stay focused and play good, sound fundamental ball they will come away with a victory.