Tucker Starts Fresh in St. Louis
Sunday, June 5, 2005
By Nick Wagoner
Rex Tucker has had about every freak injury that a professional football player can have. It’s that kind of bad luck that has him prepared for what might come next.
“My injury problems were just year after year after year,” Tucker said. “If I was in their shoes I would have done the same thing. I mean here is a guy that you invest a certain thing into and all of a sudden he just starts getting injured. I just couldn’t avoid it. I figured I would get hit by lightning next time. It was crazy so I didn’t know what to do.”
The former Bears’ left guard’s list of injuries reads like a medical dictionary and dates to 2000. In every season since then Tucker has suffered an injury that has caused him to miss at least part of a game.
In 2000, Tucker played in six games, but suffered a concussion that left him inactive for five of the next six games.
In 2001, Tucker had his best season, starting all 16 regular season games and earning a spot as a Pro Bowl alternate. He couldn’t completely avoid the injury bug that year, though, as he suffered a strained right calf which caused him to miss time.
In 2002, Tucker started the first five games of the year before suffering a dislocated left ankle and fibular fracture against the Packers in the third quarter of the sixth game. After those injuries, Tucker wound up on the injured reserve list and missed the final 11 games of that season.
In 2003, Tucker seemed fully recovered from the previous injuries and was in good shape going into the Bears’ final preseason game against the Patriots. On the final series of that game, Tucker suffered a torn tendon in his right ankle. He was placed on the injured reserve list for the entire season.
Last season, Tucker missed the first six games because of an elbow injury and, after playing in six games, finished the year on the injured reserve list because of a hamstring injury.
Finally fed up with all of Tucker’s injury problems and with a workout incentive bonus due, Chicago decided it was time to let Tucker go. The Bears released him on April 18.
Tucker loved his time in Chicago and has no ill will toward the Bears’ organization.
“It’s just the business side of the deal,” Tucker said. “I love the Bears and I love all the guys there. I hope they win all their games unless they play us. It was great. I wish I would have stayed healthy. It just didn’t work out that way.”
It didn’t take much for Tucker to find his new home, though. A few important phone calls and about 48 hours later was all it took to land Tucker in St. Louis. Tucker, the brother of former Rams’ tackle Ryan Tucker, called his brother soon after receiving a call from the Rams.
Ryan Tucker told his younger brother that St. Louis is a great place to play. Add to that the fact that Rex would get a shot at playing in an offense similar to the one he knew in Chicago and the chance to play alongside the likes of Orlando Pace and the move to St. Louis was a slam dunk.
“You kidding me? That’s awesome,” Rex Tucker said. “That’s the best in the world right there. Playing next to him is great. I just hope I don’t disappoint him too much.”
Tucker signed with the Rams on April 20 and was immediately plugged in as the potential starter at left guard. Of course if Tucker stays healthy all year it would be a big upgrade for him, but the same can be said of that position for the Rams.
Much like right tackle, left guard proved to be a revolving door for St. Louis in 2004. At various times last season the Rams started Chris Dishman, Scott Tercero, Tom Nütten and Larry Turner at left guard. Tercero and Turner started the season at tackle and center, respectively. Dishman and Nütten started 2004 retired from football, putting into perspective just how dire the situation was at left guard.
Offensive line coach John Matsko said having some stability at the position, especially someone like Tucker, is a big deal for everyone on the line.
“I think it’s extremely important not only for the younger guys, but for the older guys,” Matsko said. “This guy is a legitimate football player and he is a legitimate tough guy. He is going to bring a real nastiness to our offensive line. He is a lights out football player.”
Tucker projects as the starting left guard, assuming of course that he is healthy. Depending on how the right tackle situation plays out, Tucker will probably compete with Blaine Saipaia for that spot.
The ability for the Rams to sign a player, let alone someone the caliber of Tucker is something the team has not been able to do in recent years. Traditionally the team has not made a ton of major changes in the offseason. But after St. Louis addressed needs such as linebacker and signing Pace to a long-term deal, it appeared the Rams’ offseason work was done. Usually there isn’t enough cap room to do something even if they wanted to.
“Rex Tucker, that type of player, is what we have not had here in years past that we can get in free agency,” coach Mike Martz said. “We just haven’t been able to do that. We haven’t had the money to do that, so what we have done is we have tried to rely on free agents and guys developing. We have not drafted at that position so to bring him in is pretty significant. That’s what we were hoping for with Kyle Turley, but obviously that didn’t work out. To find a guy like Rex that knows the system, understands what we are trying to do and come in and be one of the guys so to speak is very important.”
Of course, the marriage of a traditionally injured player with a position that was plagued by injuries all last season naturally comes with some risk. Tucker, though, has been one of the few healthy offensive linemen on the team during OTA’s and this weekend’s veteran mini-camp. That has given Tucker an opportunity to work with the first team and gain some valuable repetitions in the new system.
“I am pleased with his health,” Martz said. “Obviously he has had some problems in years past, but I am real pleased with his progress, how well he has picked things up and from the technical aspect, his fundamentals.”
For now, Tucker is working on doing all of those things. He knows better than anyone that things like injuries can’t be controlled, so he is focused on doing the things that can be.
“I’m just happy to be here,” Tucker said. “I’d be lying if I told you I assumed I would always keep playing. At a certain point, you feel like maybe I shouldn’t keep playing anymore. I was feeling good and I got released and the Rams called, now here I am. I couldn’t be happier. I just hope I am what they want me to be. That’s up to them to decide. I just go out and work and try to do what they ask me to do the best I can. We’ll see what happens.”
With so much uncertainty because of injuries, the chance to simply see what happens is all Tucker can ask for.
Re: Tucker Starts Fresh in St. Louis
If He Can Stay Healthy,and Thats A Big If,he Will Be A Hugh Addition To The Offensive Line,this Guy Can Play.