Kugler the leader of the line

Sophomore center Robert Kugler is taking charge of the Boilermakers' young line.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The drills Purdue's offensive linemen work through aren't just for anyone. They're fast, physical and grueling.

Coach Jim Bridge is trying to instill a nastiness in his linemen, putting them through tough tests each practice. He demands intensity at all times—anything but is unacceptable. For Bridge, it's all about work.

"We want to be longshoremen out there," Bridge said. "We're just the hard laborers out there on the field working hard. We want to unload the docks."

At practice on Monday morning, the linemen were put through another taxing drill, flipping tires across the field. It's where their offseason conditioning is put to test.

Throughout the drill, there was Robert Kugler offering encouragement to his teammates. The sophomore center is an extension of his coach, helping to bring the line together.

"You've got to push through it and have mental toughness," Kugler said. "We want to make sure we do that as offensive linemen."

Now in his third year at Purdue, Kugler started the Boilermakers' final seven games of 2012. He went from a reserve player to a staple up front. This summer, Kugler is doing his best to lead the line.

"You've got to be the quarterback of the offensive line," Kugler said. "I definitely want to assume that leadership role."

Kugler grew up around the game of football. His father, Sean, is the new head coach at UTEP, that after spending 11 of the past 12 years serving as an NFL assistant. Robert transitioned from Pittsburgh to West Lafayette while his father coached the Steelers' offensive line.

On the field, Kugler's leadership reflects that of a coach. The Boilermaker linemen respect his approach.

"He's been solid and consistent," Bridge said. "Leaders are as good as you can get people to follow you. Because you're vocal, it doesn't necessarily make you a good leader. He's a good leader because he puts us in the right direction and people follow him."

The Boilermakers' front line is working to establish its identity as an imposing bunch. That's hard to do without a set group of starters. The coaches are looking to find the "best five guys" to put on the field. Kugler may be the only lineman who has locked up a job.

"It all starts with him inside," head coach Darrell Hazell said of Kugler. "He's the quarterback of that offensive line. The communication from him on out is imperative. He's got a little fire inside of him."

Purdue continues to place the pieces into the puzzle of its new pro-style system. The quarterback battle wages on the receivers compete for reps. But the biggest question marks are on the offensive line, where up to nine different linemen can become starters.

It all starts up front with Robert Kugler, the leader of the line.

"We want to establish ourselves as a physical run, downhill offensive line," Kugler said. "And I think we're getting to that."

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
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