Giants Tuck away much needed DE depth

Justin Tuck was ecstatic when the Giants were on the clock in the second round. Once he heard "Corey Webster, cornerback, LSU" he was incensed.

Justin Tuck was ecstatic when the Giants were on the clock in the second round. Once he heard "Corey Webster, cornerback, LSU" he was incensed.

"After they passed me over in the second round," Tuck recalled during rookie minicamp, ‘that might have been the breaker. I left the room and went to work out after that pick. (DL) Coach (Mike) Waufle told me he was going to fight his (butt) off to get me, and he did. He called me about two picks before (New York's third-round) pick and told me they were going to take me. But I was still kinda mad at that point."

Tuck, a junior eligible, wasn't selected until the 74th pick of the 2005 Draft – and he and the Giants know why: the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in the 2003 season finale against Syracuse. He was never at full strength in 2004, and his sack total dropped from a school-record 13.5 to six last year.

"It was definitely frustrating," the 6-4, 256-pound Tuck said. "Anytime you come off a season like I did my junior year your teammates are looking for you to make plays, and you just don't have the ability to do it like you know you can. I wasn't as explosive as I was in '03. Coming off the '03 season, I wanted to build on it. I didn't have the same explosiveness. It's frustrating. But you have to look past that and find ways to help your team.

"If I hadn't gotten hurt, who knows where I could have ended up in the first round? That's in the past. I'm not worried about it. I'm just moving forward."

Asked if 31 teams made a mistake in passing on him, Tuck said, "Definitely. Every coach I came in contact with here at the Giants told me you have to play with a chip on your shoulder, and that's what I plan on doing."

There's no doubt the Giants would have selected Tuck in the second round (43rd overall) if Webster weren't there. Tuck finished his Fighting Irish career with 164 tackles and 24.5 sacks, the all-time school mark.

"We think Tuck has a tremendous upside," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "We look for him to be a guy who has the toughness to play the run and he has a real upside as a pass rusher."

The cousin of Ravens DE Adalius Thomas, Tuck, who timed a 4.62 in the 40-yard dash, was named his team's most valuable player last season.

Now comes an opportunity to play with and learn from the best – Michael Strahan.

"Any time you get to play with a player of that caliber, that's always a great opportunity," said Tuck, who will play at around 270 pounds. "Hopefully he sticks around a couple more years."

Tuck's drawn comparison to many of the stud DEs around the league – Dwight Freeney, John Abraham and Jevon Kearse, to name a few.

"I like the (Charles) Haley comparison," he said. "We have the same body mold and things like that."

Tuck played right defensive end during camp and is expected to start his career backing up Osi Umenyiora.

"That left end is solidified," he said with a laugh. "In college I flipped both sides – they know I can play both."

Most of the initial highlights of Tuck show him beating defenseless tackles on swift inside moves. Tuck warned that that's not all there is to his game.

"I like to use my quickness outside first," he said. "As teams scouted me they noticed they had to overset me a lot. Whenever an offensive tackle oversets you, obviously you're going to come back inside. That's probably why I used that move so much."

Tuck took a circuitous route to Giants Stadium. He grew up in tiny Kellyton, Ala., where he was a star linebacker and tight end at Central Coosa County High School. His career totals were staggering: 492 tackles with 37 sacks, 26 forced fumbles, 17 fumble recoveries, plus 115 catches for 2,106 yards and 17 touchdowns. Tuck was named the Alabama Class 4A Player of the Year as a senior in 2000 when he helped his team to a 10-2 record with 167 tackles, nine sacks, eight fumble recoveries, seven forced fumbles and two interceptions at middle linebacker.

Kellyton is not normally prime recruiting territory for Notre Dame. And Tuck would have preferred to attend the University of Alabama, his favorite school growing up. But there was one problem.

"Alabama was on probation," he said. "Every school in the Southeastern Conference recruited me. But if you're an Alabama fan, you really don't want to go anywhere else (in the SEC). Everyone told me if you don't go to Alabama, go to Notre Dame. And don't go to Auburn. When I thought about Notre Dame it gave me a better sense of an academic plus an athletic environment. So that's why I chose Notre Dame."

It turned out to be a great decision. Tuck will graduate this month with a degree in management from the Mendoza College of Business.

Now, his only goal is to prove all those that passed over him wrong. He chalks the disappointment up as a learning experience.

"Words do not describe how shocked I was," he stated. "I learned that some things don't always go your way all the time. That taught me persistence, it taught me perseverance."

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