Giants' Justin Tuck on early-season woes

July, 31, 2012
7/31/12
11:14
AM ET
I promised you guys more from my time at New York Giants training camp, and I keep these kinds of promises. I'm going to keep going through my notes and rolling out posts that I think are interesting, based on the interviews I did while there. As long as Camp Confidential was, not everything fit in there. So while I'm at Redskins training camp today and Eagles tomorrow and the next day, you're still going to get some of my Giants reporting from late last week. Enjoy.

ALBANY, N.Y. -- If you read the Giants "Camp Confidential" that ran Sunday, you may have noticed this quote from Giants defensive end Justin Tuck about the team's bizarre 2011 season:

"I think last year was a tale of two teams. The first half was the tale of a team that didn't play well together, had egos, was injured, didn't have a full complement of players. And the second half was us coming together. 'All-in' became our slogan, and guys really checked their egos at the door and sacrificed whatever personal things we had to become that great team."

[+] EnlargeJustin Tuck
AP Photo/Bill Kostroun"Our practice improved. Our focus improved and we won football games," Giants DE Justin Tuck said of the team's efforts mid-way through the season.
Tuck said that during a wide-ranging interview I had with him Saturday morning, and my follow-up question was about that word "egos." It jumped out at me, since ego is not something one usually ascribes to these Giants, and when I mentioned that, Tuck seemed to regret the word choice.

"What I mean by egos is, we didn't necessarily buy in wholeheartedly into the system," Tuck explained. "I don't know if it was egos or just not studying or what. But we made a lot of mistakes, especially on defense. We gave up 400 points in the regular season on defense. That's a lot of damn points. We didn't play well together. And that's what I mean by egos."

Tuck said the players had plenty of meetings, including film sessions on their own after those they went through with the coaches. He and Osi Umenyiora would lead the defensive linemen in those. Antrel Rolle and Deon Grant would take the safeties off to a different room and break it down. Chase Blackburn and Michael Boley with the linebackers. But looking back, he thinks they were going through the motions a bit.

"Guys weren't as focused. We kind of did it just to say we did it," Tuck said. "But you could just tell our attitude towards it definitely changed. Guys were frustrated with being injured. Guys were frustrated with things not going our way as far as the way we played. There was a lot of frustration going on. Obviously we felt we were a better team than 7-7, but it just wasn't happening for us. So I don't know if 'egos' is the right word, but something was missing. All I know is, after that Washington game, we kind of looked ourselves in the face and were embarrassed personally, embarrassed as a football team. And that kind of woke up some very prideful individuals, probably all of us, to play better and not make any excuses. Our practice improved. Our focus improved and we won football games."

So now, you don't have to be a trained interviewer to figure out that the next question was, "What's to keep that same thing from happening again?"

"Just the mental compass of this football team," Tuck said. "And that starts with Eli and myself, making sure that guys don't fall into the trap of being wooed by everybody telling us, 'You're defending champions, blah, blah, blah, you're the best, blah, blah, blah, blah.' I've got people on Twitter talking about a 19-0 season and stuff like that. You can't allow that to creep into your thought process. You've got to continue to grind. We've got to continue to say to ourselves that teams around us have gotten better so we've got to get better."

So if you're like me and that word "egos" sounded weird to you, there's your full explanation. Still much more to come from Giants camp. And Redskins camp. And eventually Eagles and Cowboys camps. Ain't it great to have stuff to write about again?

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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