March 27, 2013

Kugler proving to be natural

Robert Kugler is proving that quick transitions aren't a difficulty for him.

That probably shouldn't be surprising given his history. He grew up around football, and the offensive line in particular, with his dad - Sean Kugler is now the head coach at UTEP - being a longtime position coach in the NFL.

So perhaps his quick ascent, from fifth-string tight end a year ago to starting center and probably Purdue's best lineman as only a redshirt freshman, should have been expected.

"I came in here knowing what to do," said Kugler after a spring practice last week. "Some guys come in not having been coached until they get here. It helps that I've been coached since I was younger and just being around it helped me. You see what you have to do to get on the field: the work needed to get out there."

Kugler, a third-year sophomore, has put in the work. Weighing about 240 just prior to the 2012 spring when he was told he was moving from tight end to the line, Kugler has gained about 45 pounds and hopes to get another five to 10 before the start of fall camp in early August.

But he showed he was a quick study last season, too. After only moving to interior line, the 6-foot-3 Pittsburgh native was starting at right guard by the middle of the year. Not only that, but he was regularly the Boilermakers' top performing offensive lineman and that was despite lacking ideal weight and strength.

But that experience has helped him immeasurably now. While playing right guard, Kugler was also Purdue's backup center. And despite the uncertainty of an offseason coaching change, he began practicing immediately following the season for a full-time takeover for the graduated Rick Schmeig.

Kugler says getting to play guard first, before having the added responsibilities that come with the center position, was good.

"It's like an acclimation process," he said. "You can get in there and get used to playing. Then, it's like 'OK, now we're putting it on you to go.' It was nice.

"The center is like the quarterback of the O-line, so you're making the calls and doing a lot more than what you're doing at guard. … It's a little more involved that way, so you've got to learn more."

During the spring, Kugler's looked to be a natural - aside from some snapping issues on Day 1 - and could be the anchor of Purdue's rebuilt offensive line. He's been around football as long as he can remember, hanging out with dad during practices over the years. It was then that he could get a feel for what it took, from a talent level to a work ethic, to get on the field. He's using that to his advantage now.

Kugler still has deficiencies but none that he can't work hard to overcome. The former tight end and defensive end in high school is still underweight and he's not as strong as he'd like to be, but both of those could be alleviated over the years. He has a chance to be a three-year starter at center.

But as of now, he'll work with the skills he has.

"Being undersized, I can be a little quicker than other bigger guys, can be on guys quicker," he said. "Personally, I just try to finish - pretty much every D-lineman I play is bigger than me - every play."

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