Justin Tuck talked bravely on Monday about making the 2013 season the best of his NFL career.
"I'm not going to place any limits on myself; I think I can be better than 2010," Tuck said, referring to a season during which he recorded 11.5 sacks and forced six fumbles. "But me saying it isn't going to get it done. It starts with getting my butt in here and working my butt off with my teammates to get back to that level of conditioning and get back to that level of strength."
Those are gratifying words for the New York Giants to hear following a pair of sub-par seasons from the team's defensive captain during which he has been banged up physically and -- from an outside viewpoint -- possibly not as emotionally invested in being successful as he had been earlier in his career.
"For me, this year is going to be all or nothing," Tuck told NFL Network. "I mean that in the sense that I'm going to do all that's in my power to be in the right place mentally and try to convey that to my teammates. I might not have done the best job I could do in that situation in past years. But I'm in a great (mind-set) right now, I really am. I can't remember a time when I was this overjoyed to get back to work."
Again, good to hear. Yet, they are only words.
The Giants need a happy, healthy, emotionally invested, productive Tuck both on the field and in the locker room in 2013. With Osi Umenyiora gone to the Atlanta Falcons, the job of making teams pay for the extra attention they will pay to Jason Pierre-Paul falls more than ever on the 30-year-old Tuck's shoulders.
Can Tuck really be better than he was in 2010, the last season he registered double-digit sacks or made the Pro Bowl?
This is hardly a scientific comparison, but here are the numbers posted by some other top-flight 30-year-old defensive ends. Some are current, others former NFL players.
- Dwight Freeney -- 10 sacks, five forced fumbles, named to Pro Bowl
- John Abraham -- 16.5 sacks, four forced fumbles
- Leonard Marshall -- 11 sacks (his first double-digit sack season in five years)
- Osi Umenyiora -- 9 sacks in nine games.
- Jason Babin -- 12.5 sacks
Again, nothing scientific about those numbers or about the players I chose to illustrate. All the numbers highlight is the fact that turning 30 does not preclude Tuck from returning to stardom and having a huge season.
Tuck's success has seemingly always been a matter of effort more than sheer athletic prowess. Working harder than the guy across the line, not quitting on plays, chasing running backs and quarterbacks down when plays get extended. Those real extra effort plays are the ones that made him special early in his career, but have not been there consistently the past couple of seasons.
As much as the focus is on pass rush and sacks, don't underestimate the value of Tuck at his best to the Giants' run defense -- which has been lacking the past couple of seasons. Check out these Pro Football Focus numbers:
- 2008 -- +23.6 (+20.8 vs. the run)
- 2009 -- +10 ++5.7 vs. run)
- 2010 -- +19.3 (+6.4 vs. run)
- 2011 -- +2.5 (-0.7 vs run)
- 2012 -- +0.8 (+1.3 vs. run)
"We've got some guys who've got to step up," Tuck said, "and it starts with me."
Now we just wait and see if Tuck can deliver.