clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Training Camp: Tre Tucker’s growing pains met with progress

Raiders rookie wide receiver had rough go initially against Rams but then made plays to show mental toughness

NFL: Preseason-Las Vegas Raiders at Los Angeles Rams
Las Vegas Raiders rookie wide receiver hauls in a 40-yard pass from rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell during this past Saturday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Watching Tre Tucker effortlessly glide past secondaries in the first two preseason games, you get good sense of why the Las Vegas Raiders drafted the Cincinnati Bearcat speedster in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft. The speed harkens back to the old school Silver & Black ways of just torch ‘em, baby.

But along with that scintillating athleticism came mistakes.

While Tucker proved he has more than enough speed to play in the pros, the ball clanging off his hands on a would-be touchdown pass from veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer in the Raider’s second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams last Saturday was disconcerting. As was a muffed kick return attempt — which the rookie did recover.

Situations like those could scuttle an NFL neophyte. Tucker rose to the occasion after the blunders showing a willingness to stick with it and show progression. When he burned the Rams defense again, he hauled in a 40-yard strike from fellow rookie Aidan O’Connell. And he also made a diving grab on a deep comeback route for another catch. While Tucker’s ability to beat cornerbacks definitely merits attention, his mental toughness should get shine, too.

“Either they do it right, or they learn from the mistake,” Raiders head coach Josh McDaniels said of Tucker in his Sunday press conference. “In either case, it’s a positive in reality right now. So, he had a couple of things offensively, and then the one play in the kicking game where I’m sure he’s going to learn from that. And if that ever happens to him again, he’ll make the right decision there.

“But I loved his mental toughness, I loved his attitude. That’s football, you’ve got to persevere.”

Perseverance is an admirable trait. But the pure speed Tucker brings to the table is something Las Vegas sorely needs and hasn’t had since Henry Ruggs III was a Raider.

Through the Raiders two exhibition tilts, Tucker gives glimpses of the fear he is likely to strike in hearts and minds of defensive coordinators tasked with stopping him. The 5-foot-9, 185 pound rookie cut through the Los Angeles Rams secondary like a hot knife through butter on deep routes. Even a very generous cushion by Rams cornerbacks didn’t help as Tucker’s suddenness was to overwhelming to catch up with.

Then there’s the jet sweeps, screens, and reverses that McDaniels is likely exploit with Tucker at his disposal. Expect the third-round selection to get his fair share of plays to keep defenses both guessing and honest.

While McDaniels and the rest of the Raiders coaching staff expect Tucker to shore up his hands and catch the ball with more frequency, if he struggles with drops, don’t be surprised. He is a rookie, after all, and comes into the NFL out of a Cincinnati program that didn’t give him a boatload of targets or plays until his senor season (52 catches, 671 yards, three touchdowns).

It’s a good thing Tucker will remind some of Raiders speedsters of old because he may be a James Jett type who has speed to burn but didn’t always have a pristine catch percentage. Jett’s rookie year in 1993 saw him targeted 78 times with the West Virginia product snaring 33 passes for 771 yards (a robust 23.4 average yards per reception) and three touchdowns (a long of 74) — a catch percentage of 42.3 percent. Jett’s most productive season — in terms of yards and touchdowns — was a 101-target, 46-catch year in 1997 where Jett produced 804 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s a 45.5 percent catch rate. Jett’s best season catching the rock (30 receptions or more) was a 51.1 percent mark in 1998 (88 targets, 45 catches, 882 yards, six touchdowns).

If Tucker is to approach that production and those gawdy numbers, he’ll need to continue to refine his game, gain trust from McDaniels, and make the most of opportunities given. The growing pains comes with the territory.

“You’re not going to play a perfect game most Sundays in our league,” McDaniels said. “So, to be able to come back from that, and then make a handful of plays offensively to help us go down there, put the ball in, then he had a couple of really nice returns as the game wore on. So, tough kid mentally, tough kid physically, and he’s going to learn from all those mistakes and be better for it.”