By Abraham Gutierrez
Following the most stoical defensive effort of the season – in last week’s 10-16 loss to the Denver Broncos – the Oakland Raiders got some potentially devastating news prior to Jack Del Rio’s Wednesday presser. According to the first-year Raiders head coach, Oakland could be without the services of veteran defensive end, Justin Tuck, whose torn pectoral could land him on season-ending injured reserve.
“I guess not good, but we’ll see where it goes,” Del Rio said when asked what Tuck’s MRI revealed. “I think we’ll know what direction we’re going to go when we need to. We’ll see – I’m not going to sit here and speculate [when Tuck will return].”
Various reports indicate the 11-year pro out of Notre Dame is undergoing additional tests before a final verdict is rendered. NFL Network’s national insider, Ian Rapoport was the first to indicate Tuck’s pectoral muscle tear could be severe enough to put him on the shelf for the remainder of the 2015 NFL season.
“[Raiders] fear that veteran DL Justin Tuck tore his pec, source says. He’s undergoing tests, but will many several games, possibly the season,” Rapoport tweeted Wednesday evening.
Losing Tuck, who’s in a contract year with the Raiders, could diminish the progress this defensive unit has made thus far, particularly against the rush. After allowing the Bengals (127 rushing yards) and Ravens (109 rushing yards) to eclipse the 100-yard mark through the first two weeks, Oakland’s “D” put the clamps on.
Led by the 32-year-old Kellyton, Alabama, the Raiders resistance neutralized the Browns, Bears and Broncos’ ground attack, ascending all the way up to fourth-best in the entire league in that department. Oakland’s defense limited Cleveland to 39 yards rushing, Chicago to 98, and yielded a stingy 43 yards last week against Denver.
Despite battling upper-body injuries all season, Tuck has been instrumental in each of those performances. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound lineman has registered 14 tackles, a sack and 3 defended passes, but more so, has been a constant leader for this young unit on and off the field.
In his first season as a Raider, Tuck recorded 43 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. Now Oakland faces the distinct possibility he could miss a good portion – or worst-case scenario, the remainder – of the season. Needles to say, Del Rio and his staff will have some reshuffling to do should Tuck land on season-ending IR.
Optimists would say, perhaps, this is the perfect time for some of the young Raider defenders to step up. Judging by the team’s depth chart, all indications are that Mario Edwards Jr. could take over the starting role in Tuck’s absence.
The 21-year-old rookie out of Florida State has only started once, but has seen playing time in each of the Raiders five games this season. Thus far, Oakland’s second-round draft pick has tallied 8 tackles (5 total, 3 assist), a half-sack and a fumble on his 2015 ledger.
“Regardless of what our record is, we are way more talented than that,” said Edwards following Oakland’s six-point defeat at the hands of Peyton Manning’s Broncos in Week 5. “We’ve made some mistakes, [but] we’re still coming around and getting better. Like Coach Del Rio said, our future, our best is ahead of us.”
Following the bye, here’s what the Oakland Raiders’ remaining 2015 NFL schedule looks like:
Week 7 – at San Diego Chargers
Week 8 – versus New York Jets
Week 9 – at Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 10 – versus Minnesota Vikings
Week 11 – at Detroit Lions
Week 12 – at Tennessee Titans
Week 13 – versus Kansas City Chiefs
Week 14 – at Denver Broncos
Week 15 – versus Green Bay Packers
Week 16 – versus San Diego Chargers
Week 17 – at Kansas City Chiefs
Abe Gutierrez’s (Twitter: @GutierrezAbe) passion led him to ditch law school journey in order to launch his own publishing company. His expertise make him a valued addition to Examiner.com, AXS.com and the CBS-Sports family. Some of his work can be found on CBS-Miami (Dolphins), CBS-LosAngeles (Chargers), CBS-BayArea (Raiders), CBS-NewYork (NY Jets), CBS-TampaBay (Buccaneers), AXS.com, aExaminer.com and other online publications.