I got the chance to speak to New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck over breakfast at Subway on Tuesday morning. Tuck and Detroit Lions rookie defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh bantered over Skype while reporters in New York and Detroit laughed on.
Both players were witty, well-spoken, and very personable. One reporter asked Suh, “What happened to Jake Delhomme’s head?” Suh responded, “I gave it back to him.”
In all seriousness though, Suh said, “I’m going to keep attacking quarterbacks, keep playing hard. I’m not going to worry about fines.”
Suh was fined $7,500 earlier this year for grabbing Delhomme’s face mask and twisting it, and then wrapping his arms around Delhomme’s head and slamming him to the ground.
Quarterback Eli Manning will be at Suh’s mercy this Sunday when the Lions visit the New Meadowlands Stadium. Suh issued an official challenge to Tuck for the game, prompting Tuck to say, “Wow, I’m getting wagered by a rookie.”
As two of the more high-profiled athletes who support and represent Subway, the linemen came together and agreed that the loser of Sunday’s game had to buy 500 breakfasts for a charity of his own choosing. Tuck selected Help USA while Suh chose Capuchin Soup Kitchen in Detroit.
A $55,000 dinner tab a la Dez Bryant may not be at stake for the rookie in the wager, but it’s only a matter of time. “I know it’s coming,” said Suh. “We’ve had four or five d-line dinners. I haven’t paid for one yet, but there are seven or eight of us taking turns.”
Suh certainly hasn’t played like a rookie on the field. “The NFL is not easy at all, but I think I’ve adjusted quite well,” he said. “There are a lot of different factors. We have a veteran group, personal coaches. I just had to adjust and adapt quickly.”
As for Tuck, he’s already considered a veteran on the team even though he’s only 27. Playing behind and with future Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan taught him many things about the NFL. The biggest lesson, however, was off the field.
“He taught me how to play in New York City. Some days, the fans cheer for you as if their lives depended on you. Other days, they’ll boo you,” Tuck said. “In New York, when you’re good, the fans are the best. When you’re bad, they’ll run you out of town.”
Former defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan got ran out of town after his defense gave up 26.7 points a game last year, good for 30th in the league.
This year, the Giants rank fifth in total defense. Tuck explained, “We just started having fun. We started getting sacks, and our attitude changed; we played loose. It was contagious.”
The biggest reason for the change in attitude stems from the fundamental coaching difference between Sheridan and current defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. “Bill had a defense, and he stuck with it. Perry is more open-minded. The communication levels are a lot different,” Tuck said. “That’s probably why Bill and I butted heads a few times.”
Tuck is also a big supporter of head coach Tom Coughlin. Although Coughlin’s job is constantly rumored to be on the line, Tuck pays no attention to the whispers.
“People think they know Tom well but they don’t. Last week, when Eli threw a touchdown pass to Nicks, Tom gave me a behind-the-back, no-look low-five,” Tuck said. “He has loosened up. When he first got here, he was militant. Now, he’s more understanding, and you can talk to him. I have weekly talks with him about improvements for the team.”
With fellow lineman Mathias Kiwanuka sidelined with a bulging cervical disk, Tuck knows that the defense has their work cut out for them. “Trying to replace Kiwi is like patching a leak with toilet paper. It’s tough because he can play a lot of different positions and help your team in so many different ways,” Tuck said. “There’s a lot more pressure on the offense. But, Perry is doing a good job shuffling people around.”
Losing Kiwanuka has put the Giants back into an underdog role, something they relish and thrive off of. “We love adversity. We enjoy backing ourselves into a corner,” Tuck said. “Let the Jets and Dallas do the talking. We’re like snakes hanging in the grass.”
Unfortunately, the Giants are 10-point favorites against Detroit on Sunday. Tuck and the rest of the G-Men must learn how to play as favorites if Tuck wants to avoid losing face to a rookie.