He’s a spokesperson for a national sandwich chain and he’s involved with high-profile charities, but there’s little doubt that Tuck’s game fell short of his stature in 2011.
Battling neck, groin and shoulder issues, Tuck had only 1.5 sacks between weeks 2 and 9. But he finally began feeling better the final two weeks of the regular season and the Giants’ four postseason games. Tuck had 5.5 sacks in those six games (all wins), and he said that was just a taste of what the Giants' defensive line could do this year if they stay healthy.
“It’s tough to get all three of us on the field healthy,” Tuck said Sunday. “I think those last few games where you saw all three of us [Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora] was us playing at the height of what we could’ve been the entire year. Hopefully, we get there for 16-plus games this year and don’t have to have guys in and out, certainly like I was.”
And now that those three and hybrid DE/LB Mathias Kiwanuka are healthy, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell is struggling to say who of the group is looking the best.
“It’s hard to find out who’s the quickest and who’s the fastest,” Fewell said. “Some days I look and I say, 'Boy JPP looks great today,' but he looked awesome down there and then Osi comes flying off the end, and I’m saying, 'Wow, boy, that’s pretty fast.' And then Tuck, he makes a move, and I’m saying, 'Wow, man ...' I’m scratching my head and then Kiwi does something.”
Specifically, Fewell said Tuck looks “much faster and better than he did last year.”
The Giants open their season Wednesday against the visiting Dallas Cowboys.
Who’s the nickelback? After Terrell Thomas’ season-ending knee injury, the Giants have to find a new plan for the nickelback spot.
Jayron Hosley had a preseason interception return for a touchdown at nickelback, but that was before he injured his toe. Hosley did fully participate at Sunday’s practice, so he could be back in the slot on Sunday.
“I’m not hesitant to do it,” Fewell said. “We’ll do what we need to do in order to be successful. I mean, would I like to keep that combination? Yes, I would love to keep that combination, but we’re going to do what we think is necessary to be successful.”
Will defensive tackle depth force Tuck to move inside? Injuries to Chris Canty (knee, PUP) and Marvin Austin (back) have limited the Giants' depth at defensive tackle, but Fewell said that won’t force him to move Tuck inside any more than he normally would.
“I've got a lot of confidence in Markus Kuhn,” Fewell said of the sixth-round pick who was thought to be a project rather than an immediate contributor. “I mean, shoot. That’s why we drafted him. He’s a New York Giant. He’s going to get his feet wet really early and shoot, we’re going to play his butt.”
The Giants' defense evolves: The Giants primarily used a two-linebacker formation over the past two seasons, but Fewell said the depth at linebacker could make for more sets in the base 4-3 defense this year.
“Our talent dictates that,” Fewell said. “I like our linebacking corps. They were young a year ago. I think Keith Rivers has added a lot to our linebacking corps.”
Even if Michael Boley (hamstring) doesn’t play Wednesday, the Giants have Rivers and five linebackers with experience in the system.
So what’s Fewell’s opinion of the defense on the verge of the season opener?
“I think we still have a long way to go,” Fewell said. “This group has learned each other a little bit quicker than the group did last year, but I think having the opportunity to play in January and February really helped this group gel. So right now, we are making strides and progressing to get better every practice, and we’re still learning. We put some nuances in our defenses that we’re still learning those nuances, so we do some things fundamentally better than we did a year ago.”