In 3rd rookie minicamp, Marcus Tucker making most of chances with Steelers
For the dozens of long shots trying to secure a contract at Steelers rookie minicamp, Marcus Tucker is a shining example of taking an opportunity and grabbing it.
Invited on a tryout basis to rookie minicamp in 2016, Tucker made a diving catch on a deep pass that caught the coaches' attention. He was signed to a contract on the final day of camp and two years later is in the mix for a spot on the 53-man roster as a slot receiver.
Because Tucker spent last season on the practice squad, the 25-year-old wide receiver was eligible to return for the team's rookie minicamp — his third in as many seasons. Just like in '16 and '17, he's taking nothing for granted and is hoping those players invited this weekend are following his example.
“I just feel like every time you step out there, you have an opportunity,” Tucker said Saturday. “I was a tryout guy two years ago. I came out not knowing if I really had an opportunity, but this is the place where they say all the time that they don't care about the means that you get here, they care about the spirit in which you do your work.
“For a guy like me to be here (a third year) after the fact and still truckin' and still working hard, it just shows if you keep working, you'll have that opportunity.”
Tucker has parlayed his chance into making his first NFL roster. Eli Rogers tore an ACL in the divisional playoff loss to Jacksonville and wasn't re-signed as a restricted free agent, freeing up a potential spot at slot receiver.
The Steelers could bring back Rogers once he's healthy, but his absence has opened the door for the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Tucker. At his exit meeting with coaches, Tucker said he was told to work on special teams play so he could enhance his value in training camp.
“I'm here for whatever the coaches need, whatever they want and to work hard,” Tucker said. “That's pretty much been my M.O. since I got into the building. Whatever they need me to be, whatever they need me to do, I'm all in. That's kind of my attitude, very blue collar.”
Tucker is the epitome of the lunch-pail-carrying underdog. He attended two community colleges before landing at Northern Michigan, a Division II school that once produced a quarterback named Phil Kessel, father of the Penguins winger.
In three years, Tucker had 2,330 receiving yards and 20 touchdown catches. As a senior, he had 79 catches, 813 yards and nine scores. He also spent two seasons as the team's top kickoff returner.
Tucker said he had no interaction with the Steelers, although coach Mike Tomlin did show up at Michigan's pro day, which Tucker attended.
Shortly after the draft, John Perez, Tucker's agent, thought some teams might be interested in inviting his client to rookie minicamp.
“It was radio silence,” Perez said.
Perez started calling teams. One person who answered was Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
“I called him on a Monday, and they said they were full at the moment,” Perez said. “On Tuesday, I get a call and Kevin says something just opened up here.”
At the 2016 minicamp, Tucker initially didn't do much to stand out, he said. Then, a wide receiver already under contract got hurt in a drill. Tucker was the next one in line, so he jumped into the formation.
“They said to run a ‘Go' ball. I ran it, but the first time the quarterback didn't come to me,” Tucker said.
On the second play, Tucker said then-offensive coordinator Todd Haley called his number.
“We ran the same play, I went and laid out for the ball and caught that pass. It was a diving catch over my outside shoulder.”
The true impact of that catch was realized the next day in the meeting room.
“It was the only play on display in Coach T's meeting in front of the team,” Tucker said.
On the final day of minicamp, on Mother's Day, Tucker thanked Tomlin for the chance and, on a whim, asked if Tomlin would say hello to his mother, a fan of the Steelers coach.
Tomlin obliged and not only wished Cynthia Tucker a happy Mother's Day, he informed her the Steelers were signing Marcus to the 90-man offseason roster.
Although Tucker was cut during training camp — the Steelers kept Cobi Hamilton instead — he was added to the practice squad in November 2016 and has been with the organization since.
“With Marcus, he's that guy that keeps fighting and takes the next step each year,” Perez said.
Opportunity is a word Tucker uses frequently in conversations about his football path. And by taking advantage of one by making a diving catch, he has earned others while keeping his NFL dreams alive.
“This is just an experience that is really opportunity-based for me,” he said. “My entire life I've been trying to capitalize on an opportunity.
“It's been working so far. If I get a chance, I believe I can get the job done.”