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Tucker to take ‘Titan' step into NFL

April 30, 2001|By ERIC GALVAN, Sports Writer

The knock on El Centro native and former University of Oregon wide receiver Marshaun Tucker by all the "experts" in this year's NFL college draft was he was too small and not strong enough to play on Sundays.

But there were a handful of teams that looked past that to see what Tucker could bring.

On April 22, hours after the draft had concluded, the Tennessee Titans signed Tucker as a rookie free-agent.

"I had also heard from a few other teams like the Giants, Lions and the 49ers, but I talked to my agent (David Lee) and decided that the best thing for me would be to go Tennessee," said the 21-year-old Tucker. "I went out (to Nashville) before the draft and checked everything out. And coach Fisher called me like four times before the draft telling me how interested they were. All that kind of helped in my decision."

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Tucker wasn't taken in the seven-round draft, which he said was upsetting. Still, Tucker said he was happy with how things ended up.

"Watching the draft and watching the rounds go by, I was getting antsy. It was a little nerve-racking for me," said Tucker. "But then after the fifth round, I was kind of hoping that I wouldn't be taken, so I could be signed as a free agent. For me, I thought it would be better off just to go that way."

What may have hurt Tucker's chances of being drafted was not being invited to the annual NFL combine, where top collegiate players get to work out in front of NFL scouts and coaches.

Had the 5-foot-9, 180-pound Tucker participated in the combine he would have shown his blazing 4.37 40-yard dash speed.

Of the top 10 selections in the draft, four were on the offensive side and all four had slower 40 times than Tucker. The No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Michael Vick, had a time of 4.4. LaDainian Tomlinson (No. 5 overall) ran a 4.55 and wide receivers David Terrell (No. 8) and Koren Robinson (No. 9) each ran 4.4s.

According to Pro Football Weekly — the official draft guide of the ESPN network — Tucker, "has a knack for getting open and making big plays. … Is not a lot of things, but has a knack for making plays in games."

He proved that in his final season at Oregon, leading the team in receiving with 50 catches for 871 yards and six touchdowns. In the Ducks' final four regular-season games Tucker had 30 receptions for 491 yards and four TDs.

During the 2000 season Tucker proved best on the road in tight ball games. In the team's second game at Wisconsin, he finished with six receptions for 196 yards in a 27-23 losing effort.

His best all-around games came toward the end of the year when the Ducks were fighting for a bowl bid. In a hostile environment at Arizona State in Tempe, Tucker showed his poise and play-making abilities as he finished with 11 catches for 138 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in Oregon's 56-55 win. The following week he had a nine-reception, 142-yard, 1-touchdown performance in the Ducks' 27-24 win at Washington State University in Pullman.

Tucker finished with 20 touchdowns in 1996 for Central. The following year at Southwestern College in Chula Vista he led the Foothill Conference with 1,222 yards receiving (14th in the state) on 52 catches with nine touchdowns.

His second year for Southwestern, he earned conference most valuable player honors, leading the conference with a 26.7-yard punt return average and finishing with 45 receptions for 750 yards and nine scores. He ended the '98 season ranked third in the conference in all-purpose yards, averaging 134.6 per game.

Now the challenge for Tucker is making the Titans. Before he was signed Tennessee only had three receivers on its roster but has added eight since, including Tucker.

He knows his best shot at making the team will be as a punt returner and No. 3 receiver behind incumbents Derrick Mason and Kevin Dyson.

"When I talked to Coach Fisher he was very honest with me, letting me know that my role on the team would be as a No. 3 receiver or punt returner. And that's what I want to do," said Tucker. "But I know it's not going to be easy. I still have to go in there, work hard, see what I can do and continue to improve my game.

"This whole thing is a great opportunity for me … to go to a team as good as the Titans and have a chance to make the team. I mean, it all really hasn't hit me yet," said Tucker. "When I go out there I feel like I'm representing the entire Valley. I'm going to try to put El Centro back on the map and continue to live this dream."

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