Arizona Cardinals left guard Justin Pugh has been honest about how much he considered not coming back to the NFL this season.
He told Arizona Sports’ Wolf & Luke on Friday from training camp that the script of his football life was on a path that would have made it stupid not to keep going. He got a scholarship, went in the first round of the NFL Draft to the New York Giants, got a great contract from the Arizona Cardinals and so on.
But the snag that Pugh said first caused some pause was when general manager Steve Keim needed Pugh to restructure his contract with chunks of money being taken out and some incentives added in for every game check to prove he was worth it.
“I never had to question if I wanted to play football or not, what was I playing football for … You gotta question, ‘What am I doing this for?’” Pugh said. “And for me, it comes down to the guys in that locker room. There’s nobody I love more than being around those guys in the locker room, and the competition.”
That conclusion Pugh arrived at this offseason to return ties into one of his core philosophies as a veteran in the offensive linemen group.
“I had a day off today, so I say to the rookies and the younger players that are playing for me: If I don’t come back tomorrow with a little less of a likelihood that I’m a starter going forward, as in this player could take my job — if you don’t gain on me in that day that I have off, you messed up,” he said. “I want that guy, whoever my backup is, to come back tomorrow and (offensive line) coach (Sean) Kugler says to me like, ‘Pugh, your days are numbered, man. We got this rookie coming up that’s getting ready to take your spot.’
“And I like adding that fuel to my game as well but the rookies have to have that mentality and I tell them that every day. ‘Try to take my job.’ It hasn’t happened yet but it’s going to happen eventually.”
Pugh cited some of those opportunities already, how backup center Sean Harlow got reps there while Rodney Hudson was away and also Josh Jones sliding over to left tackle while D.J. Humphries dealt with a stomach bug.
The 31-year-old Pugh was with Harlow at center as a potential replacement for Hudson if Hudson did not return, a position Pugh had never played before.
“I was ready to take on the challenge,” he said. “Obviously, [you’re getting] an All-Pro, one of the best centers in the game back. So, I will happily go back and play left guard where I’ve had some success the past few years.”