Justin Tuck Talks Award Nomination, Growth Of Raiders Defense

Standing in front of quarterback Derek Carr's locker, defensive end Justin Tuck spoke to the media for the first time since being placed on season-ending Injured Reserve Oct. 20, after suffering a pectoral injury during the team's Week 5 game against the Denver Broncos.

Tuck was nominated Tuesday as the Oakland Raiders representative for the 2015 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, in large part due to the vast impact of his philanthropic work.

"Anytime you get linked with the great Walter Payton in any regard, it's an honor, and with the other 31 nominees as well," said Tuck. "Very humbling to be a part of."

Tuck, along with his wife Lauran developed Tuck's R.U.S.H. for Literacy, a program that promotes childhood literacy and to date has given 65,000 books to over 11,000 students nationwide.

"I think the reason why we chose childhood literacy was because we feel as though literacy is the number one starting block to a great educational blueprint, and we're very passionate about kids," Tuck said. "That's where it starts."

Although his nomination was the reason for Tuck speaking, he did address a variety of on-the-field subjects, including the growth he's seen from the Raiders defense since being sidelined.

 "I think we've had ups and downs, just like any other defense, but one thing I do see is growth, particularly in Mario Edwards [Jr]," Tuck said. "I'm very proud of how he's stepped up and continued to play and how [Khalil] Mack has become more of a leader on the field, and there [are] a lot of guys I could mention."

Tuck is an 11-year veteran and has two Super Bowl rings to his name, and many players in his situation would have returned home to rehab, but Tuck elected to stay with the team and has remained a staple around the team's facility since being injured.

When asked why, the answer came quickly and simply to Tuck.

"They voted me captain, man, and captain has a lot more to do with just being on the field," Tuck explained. "We have a lot of young guys, especially on the D line, and just any way I can be a part of just helping their growth, I think that's important."

He added jokingly, "Plus, what's the alternative? I can go home, sit on the couch and watch TV which would get boring real quickly."

The young Raiders defense has now played six games without their veteran leader, going .500 in that stretch, and in that stretch Tuck has been impressed with the growth of Mack – a player who's constantly credited Tuck for being a mentor both on and off the field.

"More importantly, than just the stat numbers and things like that, I can tell how he's become more of a vocal leader, how he's kind of taken charge on that sideline, kind of what I was before I got hurt," Tuck said. "And in the meeting room, just how he's asking questions, being vocal about what was expected from not only himself, but everyone on that defense."

While he's enjoyed being able to watch Mack, and the entire defense, grow, the Notre Dame-product, didn't mince words – he longs to be back on the field.

"Did you follow my tweets on Sunday?" Tuck posited when asked about how it feels to not strap on the pads and play.

"If you followed my tweets on Sunday you'd know it's very difficult," he said. "I had to walk out of the room at certain points, because I realized if I didn't, I already knew what I was going to buy myself for Christmas, and that would be a new TV. It's tough."

Tuck is 32 years old, and will turn 33 in March, and while some felt his injury could be career threatening, Tuck did admit to allowing his mind to wander to thoughts about a possible return in 2016.

"Definitely," he said. "There's always thoughts, but like I said, the hardest thing to do when you rehab or you're out and you have to kind of look at things from the outside in, is to take it one day at a time. The biggest thing is to just get everything right with my body and all the rest of the stuff will take care of itself."

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