Justin Pugh Battles His Way To Stay On The Field

Guard Justin Pugh blocks rookie defensive lineman Zach Allen during Wednesday's practice.
Guard Justin Pugh blocks rookie defensive lineman Zach Allen during Wednesday's practice.

Somewhat sheepishly, Justin Pugh admits to his love of playing the video game Fortnite.

The veteran offensive lineman enjoys the game beyond playing. It’s also a way to jump online and spend time with NFL friends who might be living a few time zones away, during breaks or off days.

“It’s kind of like a vent session,” Pugh said.

Those moments came in handy in 2018, when he missed a couple of games with a broken hand and then the final seven games with an MCL injury in his left knee.

“One of the guys I was playing with was (fellow Cardinals offensive lineman) John Wetzel, who was also on IR at the time,” Pugh said. “So we’d come in, get our work done, and go home and play. I couldn’t walk, so it’s not like I’m going out. So I’d hop on and play Fortnite.”

Pugh wouldn’t mind less time to play Fortnite this season. After two straight years of injured reserve trips to end his season, the Cardinals’ biggest free-agent signing of last year is a crucial piece of the offensive line. Had the Cardinals been in playoff contention last season, Pugh said he could have returned for the final game or two. He was in a similar position the previous year, when he finished on IR with the Giants with a back injury.

He isn’t oblivious to those wondering if he can hold up. That has not shaken his confidence in being able to be exactly what the Cardinals thought they were signing last year.

“Everyone in this building knows who I am as a player and my work ethic and leadership and what I bring,” Pugh said. “But you have to go out and prove it. It’s a business. I realize that side of things as well. You have to produce or you might be looking for a job.

“But there’s no more pressure, because even when I wasn’t getting paid as much, I still wanted to produce because I wanted to have a job. That doesn’t play into it at all. I know who I am as a player and how I stack up in the league.”

It was the Cardinals call to shut him down last year, the team knowing it was long out of the postseason picture. He’s healthy again, and now playing his natural left guard spot. Pugh was at right guard last season because Mike Iupati was a career left guard.

“We felt (Pugh) has played his best football at that (left) position and he felt most comfortable there,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “Luckily, we were able to get (right guard J.R.) Sweezy (in free-agency), which afforded us that luxury.”

Pugh and left tackle D.J. Humphries – himself coming off a season-ending knee injury – are working together for the first time after not taking any reps together side by side in 2018. But Humphries said he already likes the chemistry between the two.

“He’s not a guy where I have to be like, ‘Hey, let’s do this one more time, let’s get it,’ ” Humphries said. “He’s, ‘We have to try that one more time, I didn’t like how that felt for me.’ He’s a craftsman.”

Pugh doesn’t mind working on his craft, whether it’s Fortnite or on the field. He just needs to stay healthy, so he can do more of the latter.

“I can’t train any differently, I can’t prepare any differently,” Pugh said. “I take this very seriously. I’m a professional, I show up in shape, work hard, and that’s all you can do.”

Images from Wednesday's work at State Farm Stadium

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