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Justin Pugh graduated from Council Rock South in 2009 before attending Syracuse University. (USA Today Images)
INDIANAPOLIS – Justin Pugh grew up in Central Bucks County, about 30 miles north of Lincoln Financial Field, and when Syracuse played Temple at the Linc this past November, he had a pretty sizable cheering section up in the stands.
A pretty sizable cheering section hoping it wasn’t the last game he’d play at the Linc.
“Yeah, the last game I played at my home stadium [vs.] Temple, I had 220 ‘Pugh Crew’ people in attendance,” Pugh said at the Combine Thursday. “So they definitely want me to go to the Eagles.”
It’s not that outlandish an idea.
The Eagles could certainly use a tough, physical offensive lineman like Pugh, a projected third-round pick in this year’s draft.
Pugh said he’s spoken to the Eagles twice since arriving at the Combine.
“I grew up an Eagles fan,” said Pugh, who graduated from Council Rock South in Richboro. “But at the same time, there are 32 teams out there, so there’s a 1-in-32 chance I end up there.”
Pugh’s an interesting guy. The knock on him by a lot of analysts is that his arms are too short to play tackle.
His arms measured 31½ inches at the Senior Bowl, far below the 34 or so inches that most scouts and personnel people believe is ideal for an offensive tackle. The thinking is that without long arms, a tackle can’t get an effective punch on a pass rusher and keep him engaged and off the quarterback.
Some of the top left tackles have arms as long as 36 inches. Tra Thomas, one of the best in Eagles history, measured 36½ inches.
Pugh laughs at all of this.
“Well, it’s actually crazy,” he said. “I played three years never knowing I had short arms. It didn’t really hurt me then. I didn’t know I had short arms until I got to the Senior Bowl.”
It was at the Senior Bowl that Pugh was told his arms were only 31½ inches.
“Today I was 32 inches,” Pugh said with a laugh. “So somehow I grew a half-inch extra on my arms since the Senior Bowl.”
Pugh’s measured arm length indicated to scouts that he might be better suited to play guard, where arm length is less important.
Of course, guards are generally drafted later than tackles and generally make less money.
So most linemen want to play tackle.
“I played three seasons of good football not knowing I had these short arms,” he said. “And now going into it I feel I can play tackle. And all the teams have told me I’m going to play tackle until I can prove I can’t.”
But the 6-foot-5, 280-pound Pugh is versatile enough to play guard, which he last played at Council Rock South, and he said he’d also be able to play center if called upon.
“Yeah, I think I can play every position on the offensive line,” he said. “I haven’t snapped, but I think with my football IQ I know I’d be good with the calls. It’d be just getting the snaps down, which is something that with coaching should come easy.”
Although some of the measurables like arm length might not go in Pugh’s favor, everything else does.
Pugh was a three-year starter for the Orange, declaring for the draft after four years but with a year of eligibility remaining.
He’s smart, experienced, versatile and also has played in a pro-style offense.
“In college we ran the same offense as the New Orleans Saints did, because coach [Doug] Marrone came from the Saints,” he said. “So we did a lot of zone blocking and stuff. We also did power scheme my freshman and sophomore seasons, so I’m accustomed to both styles of offense.
“I think I can fit either way. So it’s something that’s good for me, and being at the Senior Bowl I got more exposure to the inside zone and playing guard, so I was able to show my versatility.”