New to LB, rookie Tuggle ready to start

New to LB, rookie Tuggle ready to start
August 8, 2013, 8:30 am
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Less than two years ago, Justin Tuggle was a quarterback at Kansas State, buried on the depth chart behind Collin Klein and Sammuel Lamur.

On Friday, he’ll play and start in his very first NFL game … as a linebacker.

After appearing in just four games during the 2011 season, all as a special teams player, Tuggle realized his future football career wasn’t going to be at quarterback, not with Klein playing as well as he was, so before that bowl game, he decided to switch.

“My junior year, I played behind Colin; he had a great year,” Tuggle said. “So I knew there wasn’t going to be a competition at quarterback. I’ve been playing football since I was a little kid. I’m a football player, so I knew I could play another positions.”

In a year and a half, Tuggle has come a long way as a linebacker. He’s been impressing coaches during training camp and because of some injuries at the linebacker positions, he’ll start on Friday night in Minnesota.

“It’s been an adjustment for him,” head coach Gary Kubiak said, “but he’s fixin’ to line up and start so he’s gonna play a lot of football.”

The position change happened just before the 2012 Cotton Bowl, when Tuggle approached Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder and told him he wanted to move to defense. Tuggle knew he wouldn’t play quarterback the next season, saw a vacancy at the linebacker spot and thought he could fill it. And he did.

Tuggle, 23, played quarterback in high school and played defense sparingly. He hasn’t played on both sides of the football full-time since middle school.

“The transition, it was pretty smooth for the most part,” he said. “I had to just get used to tackling people and the mindset. I was playing quarterback so long, I was just sitting back in the pocket. I’m just glad I made the switch when I did and I’m just confident in what I’m doing right now.”

The Texans signed Tuggle as an undrafted rookie free agent in the spring and brought him to rookie camp. He was hoping to get drafted but realized it wasn’t likely because of how late he changed positions.

Tuggle has been getting a lot of reps during training camp because of injuries to some veterans. He’s even been working with the first unit and has been pushing fellow undrafted rookie Willie Jefferson from Stephen F. Austin during practices. Both will get plenty of playing time in the preseason.

“I’m really excited,” Tuggle said about playing in his first game on Friday against the Vikings. “I’ve been waiting since I was a little kid to put the uniform on.”

Tuggle actually began his collegiate career at Boston College, where he started three games for the Eagles as a redshirt freshman in 2009. In those games, he threw for 229 yards and four touchdowns. But the coaches who took over at BC for his freshman year weren’t the ones who recruited him, so he left after one season.

From Boston College, Tuggle went to Blinn College – he played quarterback there too – for a season before heading to Kansas State.

Once he decided to make the position switch at Kansas State, he had one very special resource: his father. Jessie Tuggle played 14 seasons at linebacker in the NFL, all for the Atlanta Falcons. He was a five-time Pro Bowler, three-time All Pro and played in Super Bowl XXXIII.

“I think he was excited. But with anything, he supports me,” Tuggle said.

Tuggle said his father supported him by taking him to quarterback camps before he became a linebacker. And once his position did change, he looked to his dad for advice, which he received nightly at home. That fatherly advice helped a lot.

“We like him,” Kubiak said. “He comes from a background that says he’s gonna be able to do this. His dad was a great player and he’s really adapted to what we’re doing. Let’s see how he does. He’s a smart young man. He’s got the physical tools.”

Tuggle said he has really enjoyed learning from linebackers coach Reggie Herring and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. He marveled at Phillips, who has coached several Hall of Fame players. With their tutelage, Tuggle has learned a lot in a short amount of time.

And now, he’s going to start an NFL game at a position he wasn’t playing two years ago.

“I feel like I’ve come along pretty well in the year and a half I’ve been doing it,” he said. “I’m just excited for the future.”