PLAINFIELD, N.J. - Justin Tuck wasn't sure if he'd ever be back.
Mentally, he said, he felt like he could continue to play the game at a high level and recapture the production he had early in his career.
"But when your body is not allowing you to do that, you start to wonder if your body is going to respond back to when the game was easy," he said. "I feel great this year. I think my play has shown that. Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come for me to get back to the Justin of old."
Tuck, speaking at an NFL Play 60 event at Maxson Middle School in Plainfield, N.J., Tuesday, said he hasn't felt this comfortable on the football field since the end of the 2009 season (even though he did have 11.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl in 2010).
Something else changed for Tuck at that time that had nothing to do with injuries. In 2010, he was named captain, a role he has admitted to being slightly uncomfortable with. This season, he's able to share those responsibilities with Antrel Rolle, who was voted a co-captain in the preseason.
"I kind of asked [Antrel] to be more vocal to allow me to, when need be, go talk to guys one on one," Tuck said. "Everyone knows that I don't want to be that guy that everyone sees talking, going up and down the sideline. I can do it, but that's not necessarily my personality. It's worked well because obviously Antrel is that type of guy, he's done a great job for us.''
Tuck has been allowed to lead from behind the scenes, with whispers instead of a bullhorn.
"He's played with outstanding energy all year and he's led by example,'' Tom Coughlin said of Tuck. "I've been very happy to see that."
Tuck may not be racking up stats like he once did -- he has a modest 1.5 sacks and 35 tackles -- but he has a team-high nine quarterback hits and seven tackles for a loss. And his influence on the team clearly goes beyond his numbers.
"Being a captain of this team, I understand that everyone is looking at me and wants to take my lead as far as how I approach the game," he said. "That's the only thing I really care about."