Rookie SS Jordan Pugh is catching on in Carolina. (AP Photo)
CHARLOTTE – There are some NFL rookies who get it right away.
Jordan Pugh is one of those guys.
The Carolina Panthers sixth-round draft pick has only been with the team now for about four months, but it didn’t take long for those in the organization to notice the rookie safety from Texas A&M is a guy who has a chance to be a player and develop into a team leader.
In fact, linebacker Jon Beason, who doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to rookies, said Pugh caught his eye a few weeks ago and he pulled him aside for a talk.
Beason said he walked away “very impressed.”
“Being a former safety, I thought he had great pass-run reads,” Beason said. “That's big when you're playing safety. It allows you to show up faster in the run game and get a jump on a receiver on the back end.”
But what really struck Beason about Pugh was the 22-year-old’s maturity.
“He seems like a savvy vet already,” Beason said. “He’s smart and he kind of reminds me of (ex-Panthers safety) Chris Harris a little bit. I think he can be more vocal, but he's still a young guy so that’s understandable.”
So confident were the Panthers in Pugh’s ability they had making the calls for the secondary in his first NFL preseason game against Baltimore.
And with starter Sherrod Martin out of the lineup last Saturday night, Pugh was thrust into a starting role at strong safety. He played most of the first half and was a member of the first-team defense that limited Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets to 45 yards (and only three first downs) on 33 plays.
“It was a dream come true to be out there with the starters and to be running around with them is great,” Pugh said.
When Pugh talks it’s easy to sense the excitement in his voice and an overwhelming love for the game.
“I think I bring a leadership factor,” Pugh said. “But you have to follow before you can lead. That’s where I’m at right now. I’m watching the vets and learning from them. I’m a guy who loves the game. I’m passionate about the game. It’s something that I think you really have to have to play this game.”
Coach John Fox said the transition from college to the NFL level has nearly been seamless for Pugh.
“He's adapted to things pretty quickly,” Fox said. “He started last week against the Jets, and I thought he had a good performance. He's a guy that early on showed a pretty good innate ability to learn our systems and be able to do it under pressure. He's a good, young player, a guy that's had a good camp.”
Fox said the Panthers noticed Pugh’s leadership ability early on during the draft evaluation process.
“We investigate these guys pretty in depth coming in,” Fox said. “Some of them we do better on than others. But he's one that has caught on pretty quickly, and I think he'll help us this year.”
If he makes the team, Pugh is expected to be a backup at safety and could contribute on special teams.
In college, Pugh was a three-year starter for the Aggies.
He played cornerback as a freshman and junior and safety as a sophomore and senior. He tallied 221 tackles, four interceptions and forced four fumbles. He also broke up 19 passes.
Said Pugh: “I think I’m coming along well. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad because you are in that learning curve.
“But the adaptation is good. You have the vets helping you every day and teaching you to be a pro. I guess the one thing I have learned is how to study and prepare. I’ve learned how to practice. Now I’m just trying to get better.”
NOTES: OT Nick Barton, whom the Panthers claimed off waivers on Wednesday, did not report to the team after deciding to retire from football. Carolina would have been the well-traveled Barton’s sixth team since joining the NFL two years ago. That leaves the Panthers with 79 players and one vacant roster spot to fill. Of course with the team needing to cut five players to get down to 75 by Tuesday they may simply decide not to fill that spot.