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Tuck preparing for a new role: Team leader

Defensive end Justin Tuck takes a breather at

Defensive end Justin Tuck takes a breather at Giants training camp in Albany, N.Y. (Aug. 2, 2010) Credit: Jon Winslow

ALBANY - There are all sorts of things that players work on in training camp. Techniques, strengthening, timing. For Justin Tuck, these few weeks in Albany and back in New Jersey before the season starts are all about learning a new position.

Leader.

It's a role that he hasn't had to fill in the past. Since he arrived with the Giants in 2005 there have been plenty of vocal leaders to speak in the locker room, from Michael Strahan and Antonio Pierce to Sam Madison and R.W. McQuarters. Now it is Tuck's turn to step into those shoes. And it might be the biggest challenge of his football career.

"It's definitely not a burden, it's a compliment," Tuck said of the anticipation by players and coaches that he'll be able to fill the leadership vacancy that was a big part of last year's second-half meltdown.

"But it's tough because there are so many different personalities on this defense. I have to be very diplomatic in certain situations. You have to know how to push some guys' buttons without pushing them away. And vice versa with other guys. Every one of them is different and every one of them has a different way to kind of get riled up about something."

To that extent, Tuck has been laying back and making mental notes during camp.

"I'm not really talking about it," he said. "I'm kind of paying attention to see what spark needs to be pushed and what button needs to be pushed on certain guys. Once the season gets in and you get into the game plans and stuff like that, then I can step forward and be more of a leader that they're looking for."

Tuck would seem to be perfect for the job. He has all of the qualifications. He's talented, smart, accomplished and respected. That's why Tom Coughlin, Strahan and others have been nudging him toward that unofficial position, even if someone else winds up wearing a captain's "C" on his jersey. You'd think he's a natural leader.

Only Tuck isn't sure there is such a thing.

"I don't know if anybody is a natural leader," he said. "There is work to put into it because there are so many components to it . . . You have to know the guys who are around you and hopefully they know you. They have to believe in the fact that when you say something it's coming from the heart and it's not because the coach tapped you on the shoulder and said, 'Justin, we need you to say this.' It has to be natural.

"When guys feel like you are just putting on a show just because you can, you lose a team very easily like that. And once you lose them, all the work you did on the football field to get the reputation as a leader, it goes right out the window."

Tuck insists there are plenty of players in the locker room and on defense who can step up and help in the task he's been given. They might not be as vocal as Strahan or Pierce were, but they get their message across. He said it was difficult for him to be a leader last year because he was not able to give a full effort in each practice because of his shoulder injury suffered in Week 2.

"I wasn't playing at the level I was used to playing at, so it was kind of tough for me to say 'You all need to pick this up' when I couldn't pick it up myself," he said. "This year, hopefully I can get into that role and feel comfortable in it, but the biggest thing for me is to make sure it's natural and not just saying something just to be saying it."

So Tuck is not diving into this headlong. He's taking his time. He's getting the feel of things, the feel of the team. It's the same way he is preparing for the season on the field, taking a veteran's coast for many of his reps but busting it full-out when he needs to.

"I'm pretty awesome when I want to be," he said with a grin about his play in this camp.

There's no doubt he wants to be a great football player. But does he want to be a leader? Can he be something that he doesn't even think exists - a natural leader?

"We're working on it," he said.

New York Sports