Injury has taken from Tim Fugger. Specifically, it has deprived him of a lot of valuable practice time over the past two years.
Now, injury finally has given back.
Because of the broken foot sustained by senior Steven Stone, Fugger, a third-year sophomore, has been presented with an opportunity to start at left defensive end when Vanderbilt opens the 2009 season a little more than a week from now.
“It’s going to be a lot different going into the season this year and being a No. 1 guy,” he said. “It’s just too bad a guy like Stone had to go down for something like that to happen.”
Up until now, Fugger was the one getting hurt. Often.
A broken collarbone sustained during the 2008 preseason camp caused him to miss the first three games of last season. He eventually made 14 tackles in nine appearances, and all of those stops came in the final seven contests.
Prior to that, a sprained foot on the third day workouts caused him to miss the remainder of the 2008 spring session. His first preseason camp (2007) was a constant battle against back spasms.
“(This past) spring was the first time I went through a whole session of practice where I wasn’t too banged up and had to miss any practices,” he said.
That bit of sustained health and his resultant development allowed him to move up to second on the depth chart behind Stone, a senior and two-year starter, and put him in position to play regularly once Stone was hurt.
Stone is expected to miss the first three or four games, which means Fugger can start the first third — or more — of the season.
“I think Tim Fugger has worked his way up the ladder there and certainly learned a lot from Steven Stone,” defensive line coach Rick Logo said. “He has had a great spring, offseason and camp.”
Fugger, however, is not the only Commodores’ defensive end who suddenly has found himself in a higher-than expected spot.
On Tuesday, junior Theron Kadri, who started once last season when right end Broderick Stewart was hurt, left the team for personal reasons. That thrust another junior, Teriall Brannon, into a more prominent role, and moved youngsters such as Josh Jelesky, Walker May and Johnell Thomas that much closer to playing.
“We have to get those guys ready – that’s coaching in college football,” coach Bobby Johnson said. “You don’t pick up another guy up from waivers and bring him in here. You have to have him here and get him ready to play whether he’s a freshman, a sophomore, a senior or a tight end you move over to defensive end.”
Actually, Fugger made that move long ago.
Recruited with the idea that he could play either tight end or defensive end, he actually started at tight end. It was just two weeks before he was moved to the defense – a change he heartily embraced.
“I think I’m just a much better fit for defensive end than the offense,” he said. “I’m much more defensive-minded. I like reacting. I’m not much of a ‘this is what you have to do’ kind of a guy. I like to react to what’s coming at me.”
What’s coming at him now is his first career start – and soon.
“It’s hard not to put pressure on yourself, but you just have to do what the coaches tell you and play your technique,” he said. “It makes things a lot easier.”
Being healthy doesn’t hurt either.
• A couple aspects of Wednesday’s workout made it clear that the countdown to the first game – Sept. 5 against Western Carolina – officially is on.
First, a significant number of players wore red jerseys, which distinguished them as the scout team – a first since official practices commenced.
“It says you’re working against Western Carolina schemes and plays,” Johnson said. “So, yes we are getting prepared for the game. We’re not working Vanderbilt against Vanderbilt anymore. We’re working Vanderbilt against Western Carolina.”
Furthermore, kickers performed field goal drills on the grass field at the John Rich practice facility. For the first couple weeks of workouts those drills were conducted on the artificial surface but they have been moved because Commodores’ kickers will work on grass in the game at Vanderbilt Stadium.
• Starting free safety Ryan Hamilton, one of three team captains, missed Wednesday’s workout due to illness. Backup cornerback Jamie Graham worked with the starters in his absence.