A few of us had a very insightful conversation with Justin Tuck today. And by insightful I mean it wasn’t the usual talk we hear from players about working hard and trying to win jobs. Rather, this was about the growing trend in the NFL of teams using more than two defensive ends. It’s particularly significant to the Giants this year, who will have to shuffle at least three starting-caliber ends in and out of the games.
Of course it wasn’t always like that. Defensive ends used to be like offensive linemen. You were a starter and you played until you got hurt and had to come out.
“When I came in the league I took all of Stray’s reps in practice and he took all the reps in the game,” Tuck said of being Michael Strahan’s understudy. “I was hoping it would get that way when I got to this point. I still have enough pull with the coaches to say I don’t want to come out yet. But the league is rotating into a four d-end system. One series one guy goes, the next series another guy goes.
“Do I like it? Certain aspects about it I do, others I don’t. I think it puts a lot of pressure on you to get into a rhythm early. If you get off to a slow start it makes it hard to catch up when you’re rotating like that. But I guess that’s a good problem to have. You don’t have to worry about being as tired in the fourth quarter even though in the fourth quarter I’m not coming out and you can write that.”
Ironically, it was the Giants who sort of launched the whole idea of using more than two defensive ends.
“I think we started it,” Tuck said. “When I started playing tackle, that was like the beginning of getting more than two defensive ends on the field. From there it evolved from three to four. That’s something that’s been copycatted from us. I don’t know if we were the first ones to do it, but I think we were the first to be publicized for doing it, especially during the Super Bowl run.”
“It’s a good system,” he added. “If you can find four pretty good defensive ends who can rotate and you don’t really lose much when one guy comes out, it definitely benefits you. It gives you an opportunity to get guys rested and the offensive line is in there having to deal with a fresh guy. But there are some minuses to that too. Like I said, rhythm. The flow of the game. Figuring out what moves are working against this guy and things of that nature. That can make it difficult at times.”
How does the Giants’ rotation work?
“It normally is the hot hand,” Tuck said. “How (former defensive line coach Mike Waufle) would do it is first series I would go, second series I would go, third series Dave (Tollefson) and Kiwi (Mathias Kiwanuka) would come in and things like then. And from then it was just the hot hand. Or I would take five reps and he would take two. It depended on the system, depended on the game, depended on the scheme we were running.”
Does Tuck think that Osi Umenyiora will be able to play in that system, particularly if he’s the guy subbing in and not coming out after starting?
“We’re all professionals and we understand the best person for the job is going to play,” Tuck said. “We accept that and Osi is the same way. He’s a guy who is going to push Kiwi and Kiwi is going to push him. And that’s going to make both of them better. I worry sometimes that they’re going to come over to the left side too. They’re working so hard on the right they’re going to jump me on the left. But it’s the game we play. In the long run it’s going to make this team that much better.”