Unlike 2011, this time Justin Tuck is trying to solve his motivation issues before the season starts. The New York Giants defensive captain famously turned his season around two years ago after a heart-to-heart chat with Tom Coughlin prior to the team’s Christmas Eve game against their stadium roommates, the New York Jets.
Tuck had struggled through the first 14 games of 2011 due to obstacles that consumed him both on and off the field.
Nagging injuries to his neck, ankle and toe, among other areas of his body, wore on him physically (these injuries actually caused him to miss four October games) and even more so mentally, as he had to deal with playing in pain. He was also grieving due to the loss of his grandfather in August and uncle in September.
The emotional and physical pain of 2011 actually had him contemplating retirement, at only 28 years old, midway through the season.
That all changed after his talk with Coughlin. Tuck came away from the meeting rejuvenated, and it showed in his play. After tallying only three sacks through his first 10 games, he managed to rack up 5.5 quarterback takedowns through Big Blue’s final two regular-season matchups and four playoff games.
Tuck’s late-season renaissance seemed to set the stage for a big 2012 campaign. Instead, Tuck struggled again, even without the off-the-field issues or debilitating injuries (he only missed one game last season).
He actually performed worse than the year before, registering only four sacks, one pass defensed and no stuffs in 15 games. In 2011, he had five sacks, three pass defenses and one stuff in 12 games.
In order to break out of this funk, Tuck didn’t consult his head coach again, but instead motivational speaker Tony Robbins. After four days and a whopping 50 hours with Robbins in March, including a barefooted walk across hot coals, Tuck believes he is rejuvenated, as you can see in the below excerpt from an article by ESPN.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk:
I feel like if I can get my mind to a point where I'm saying I am not afraid of these hot coals and I am going to own this moment, then you can get your mind to own anything. You might have a phobia of snakes, that is all mental.
The thing that I got from it the most was a renewed confidence in self.
So is the eight-year veteran finally motivated? Is he ready to regain the top-notch form he displayed from 2007 through 2010?
The answer is an ambiguous maybe. Tuck’s motivation issues weren’t solved the first time, so there is no reason to believe that a few days with Tony Robbins is going to suddenly eliminate the problem.
Tuck had a right to struggle with his motivation in 2011. Dealing with multiple injuries simultaneously cannot be easy in such a physically demanding sport. When you compound this with the grief that comes while mourning the loss of two family members at the same time, it is easy to see why he became distracted and disheartened.
However, his issues last season are downright puzzling.
Tuck used his talk with Coughlin to finish 2011 on a very strong note. His late-season play was a big reason why the Giants won their second Super Bowl in four years.
That Tuck was able to overcome the obstacles he faced in time to help his team win a championship should have provided him with a renewed sense of fire and confidence. Yet, his play somehow managed to decline off a bad year even though he was relatively healthy.
Motivation appears to be the only thing stopping Tuck from once again becoming an impact defensive end.
Age certainly shouldn’t be a concern, as he just turned 30 in March. Top defensive ends have shown an ability to be very productive well into their 30s. For example, Michael Strahan had a ridiculous 79.5 sacks after his 30th birthday, while Reggie White tallied six seasons of double-digit sacks in his fourth decade of life.
Tuck isn’t the same caliber of player as Strahan and White but, in his prime, he was only a notch below.
Also, injury history is only a slight worry as a reason for a premature decline in play. Despite his health issues in 2011, Tuck has only missed five games since the start of the 2007 season. Prior to 2007, he dealt with a knee injury in college that affected his draft value and a foot injury that required season-ending surgery in November 2006.
This is a relatively clean health history for a defensive lineman entering his ninth season in the NFL.
If the Tony Robbins getaway did the trick, then Tuck should have a strong 2013 season. He is still capable of recording eight to 10 sacks and impact plays as a run defender.
It is certainly not a guarantee, though, that Tuck will come out hungry and motivated after two seasons of mostly lackluster play. Anything is possible, however, from the man that cured Shallow Hal.
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