So what about this Justin Tuck he's been anointed as the next big star for a solid Giants defensive line, but I have a question; Will he be able to do as well, let alone top, what he did last season now that not only will he be a starter but he'll be playing without line mate Michael Strahan?
One of the things that allowed Tuck to be successful was that he didn't have to play every down. Tuck would come in on passing situations requiring a simple on task mindset of get to the quarterback. He also was coming in with fresh legs against offensive lineman that were spending the whole game trying to defend their qb from Strahan and Umenyiora.
This was a simple trick employed by the Giants last season to increase the quality of their pass rush. By cycling your defensive lineman you allow your team to run a more aggressive attack at the lineman of scrimmage. While your d-lineman stay relatively fresh throughout the game you wear down the other team’s o-lineman.
It’s a trick I first noticed when the Broncos went out and signed Gerard Warren and a few other former Browns busts. When Shanahan used this method with his players it seemed to bring about a resurgence for the players and all of a sudden the Broncos were playing with a quality defensive line.
What separated this Giants scheme from what the Broncos did is that with rather than just cycling Tuck at the d-tackle spot they would line him up all over the place. Playing it this way it allowed the Giants to keep the opposing lineman uncomfortable, just when they got used to one lineman’s style here was a completely different monster that would attack you in a completely different manner.
It helped them keep the Patriots offensive line off balance and provide the pass rush that was necessary to stop an offense that had dominated the league all year.
But without Strahan in the mix how will this scheme fair? With Strahan, Umenyiora, and Tuck the Giants always knew they’d have two high caliber linemen on the field, without Strahan that guarantee is gone. If Umenyiora or Tuck are off the field the offense will have a much easier time knowing only one lineman will need a double team.
If they change the scheme, maybe stop the cycling, how will that affect the line? As a run stopper Umenyiora isn’t particularly strong, and Tuck is unproven. Will other teams just attack them on the run knowing they can’t make the same plays they would make against a passing attack? An attack like that could quickly wear down players that spent last season knowing they would get breaks while another quality lineman took over for a few plays.
After signing a big deal before last season’s playoffs were over the Giants were putting a lot of faith in Tucks ability to be an every down player. And everything I’ve seen allows me to fully believe everyone’s expecting Tuck to make just as many, if not more, plays than he did last year as a reserve.
But what kind of toll will being a full time starter take on Just Tuck? Will he have the endurance to be a full time defensive end, or will his body wear down before the season is out? Will Tuck emerge as the next big defensive star in the league or will the pressure and physicality of his new job cause him to be one more rising star to fizzle out and end up falling short of everyone’s expectations?
Myself, I’m intrigued to know, if only because the one thing more interesting than seeing a star rise is seeing one fall.