GREEN BAY - As Cory Tucker packed for the Green Bay Packers’ rookie minicamp earlier this month, the former Slippery Rock offensive lineman took some clothes and stuffed them into a duffle bag.
But before he left, his agent told him to make sure he had a big suitcase. Tucker didn’t know why he’d need so many outfits for one weekend.
“He said, ‘You know, if they like you, you are going to be down there until like mid-June,’” Tucker said. “I was like, ‘Oh, all right.’ Sure enough, I packed as much as I could in a suitcase and now I’m living out of it for a couple months.”
That’s because the Packers were impressed enough with Tucker to sign him and three other tryout players to contracts after the minicamp.
The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Tucker was one of the best offensive linemen in NCAA Division II last season, when he was a first-team Little All-America by the Associated Press and a finalist for the Gene Upshaw Division II Lineman of the Year award.
He was a key cog in an offense that was the highest-scoring unit in D-II at 45.2 points per game. It also was tops in first downs (351), fifth in total yards (490.3 per game) and 12th in rushing yards (257.7 a contest).
“I can't say anyone in our office is surprised," Slippery Rock coach Shawn Lutz told the school’s website when Tucker signed with the Packers after minicamp. "We all knew Cory was capable of going up there and holding his own and earning a spot. We are incredibly proud of his efforts, and we know he will continue to keep working his tail off every day."
Tucker has an uphill battle to make the roster. What undrafted free agent doesn’t?
But it looms as an even bigger challenge because he will be playing a new spot on the line, being shifted to guard after being a fixture at tackle in college.
The move was necessary because most scouts don’t believe Tucker has long enough arms to be a tackle in the NFL.
Tucker felt he adjusted to his new role well during minicamp. He isn’t too worried about the transition despite starting 48 straight games at right tackle the past four seasons.
“I like it,” Tucker said. “Tackle, you are taking those couple steps and you’re almost always out there on a little island, is how I always said it. But now when you are a guard, you get some help sometimes with the center and you’re really not taking that many first steps before you are hitting somebody. You are taking a couple steps and you’re on somebody.
“Obviously, it is going to take a little bit to get used to, and I’ve been working on it. I like it so far.”
It would have been difficult five years ago for Tucker to imagine getting a chance at the NFL. He played football and baseball while at South Park High School in South Park, Pennsylvania, and was planning to go Division III for football until Slippery Rock came calling about a week before signing day.
Tucker weighed 238 pounds when he stepped on campus. He redshirted his first year and by the next fall was up to 270. He checked in at 305 pounds as a senior, while maintaining the athleticism he took with him to college.
Tucker really started to attract the interest of NFL scouts in 2015. Although he was projected to be a seventh-round pick or an undrafted free agent, he had shown enough promise that most around him felt he’d get an opportunity with a team this summer.
It’s possible for a D-II player to overcome the odds. The NFL is littered with them. They include Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Brandon Fusco, who was a sixth-round pick in 2011 out of Slippery Rock. He became a starter in 2012 and signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension in 2014.
Tucker was aware of Fusco even before committing to Slippery Rock. The coaching staff used Fusco as an example of what could happen as part of its recruiting pitch to him.
He got Fusco’s phone number after last season and talked with him about everything, from hiring an agent to training tips.
Still, there is a stigma that Tucker knows he has to overcome being from a small school and a lower level.
“I think it’s out there, definitely,” Tucker said. “The way people are viewed in D-I, they are supposed to be the bigger guys and have the better football IQ. The stuff they were doing was probably more toward the NFL as far as diets and their workouts.
“I saw it for a little bit when I was training down in Mississippi (before the NFL draft). I kind of acclimated myself to that, but it took about a week I’d say just to get used to what they were doing. And here I am.”
The jump from high school to college was big for Tucker. He realized when he got to Slippery Rock how much faster the college game is played. But perhaps that helped prepare him for what to expect when he got to Green Bay, because unlike when he was a wide-eyed freshman, he didn’t feel overwhelmed this time.
“Not really, because I kind of knew what I was going to get myself into,” Tucker said. “I kept telling myself when I was coming here, you know it’s going to be a little quicker. People are going to be way bigger.
“I’ve been training myself to make sure that I was ready for this jump.”