Tuggle continues transformation into LB

Tuggle continues transformation into LB
June 25, 2014, 9:30 am
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(USA Today Images)

Making play calls on a football field isn’t anything new for Texan Justin Tuggle. But making them on the defensive side of the ball?

Well, that’s a different story.

Tuggle, who made the Texans as an undrafted linebacker from Kansas State last season, didn’t start playing defense until just before the 2012 Cotton Bowl. Tuggle was a quarterback before that but was buried on the depth chart and decided to switch to defense.

And less than three years later, Tuggle is taking an even bigger role in the Texans’ defense. With Brian Cushing out this spring after a knee injury last year, Tuggle was charged with making the defensive play calls from the middle linebacker position during OTAs and minicamp. And he thinks it’s helping him.

“I think it definitely helps because I have to hold myself to a higher standard because I'm making all the calls,” Tuggle said during OTAs. “I know everyone is relying on me to get them set up, get them in place, so I just hold myself to a higher standard. When you have guys like J.J. Watt in front of you, you don't want to mess that up too many times. He's not going to be happy about that. So just no pressure but when you're around guys who have been in the league and have done it, and have reached a high level, you want to play with them and you want to reach the level they're at.”

Tuggle, 24, said things are coming much easier to him this offseason, with a year of NFL linebacker under his belt, but still thinks he’s a little bit behind as he enters his third season as a defensive player. Because he feels behind, Tuggle is working hard to catch up.

Tuggle has the ability to play inside and outside linebacker. He did both during last year. With the absence of Cushing, he’s been playing with the first team at inside ‘backer alongside Brooks Reed, who also plays inside and out.

He spends extra time watching film, trying to gain an advantage and he’s using all the resources he has available, including linebackers coach Mike Vrabel and his dad, former NFL Pro Bowl linebacker Jessie Tuggle.

When Justin Tuggle watches film, he’ll sometimes call up dad and ask for advice about a specific situation and his dad – who went to five Pro Bowls in 14 seasons – will tell his son what he would do.

“I just try to take what he says and incorporate it with our system here and just try to make it work,” Justin Tuggle said.

And if it’s not his father offering advice, it’s another 14-year veteran: Vrabel. The former Patriot and Chief was hired by the Texans to be the linebackers coach this offseason and Tuggle has enjoyed working with him so far.

“He's very unique. He's real hands-on,” Tuggle said of Vrabel. “He works really hard. You see him running around. He probably has more energy than we do, which is amazing.”