ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — The clock is ticking on Rob Bruggeman’s NFL career, but the Cedar Rapids native is too busy working to hear it.
Bruggeman, a former Iowa center, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason and is competing for a backup role on the interior offensive line. He’s listed as the Chiefs’ third-team center entering the team’s first preseason game on Friday.
“We’re working him at center, but he can also play the guard,” Chiefs Coach Romeo Crennel said. “If you’ve got those kind of players, it gives you a little bit more flexibility and it helps the roster.”
Bruggeman initially signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent in 2009 after his senior year at Iowa, where he was a second-team all-Big Ten center. He was cut, then signed to the Atlanta Falcons’ roster and later the practice squad in 2009. He spent part of the next three seasons floating between the Falcons’ practice team and 53-man roster. He played in two regular-season games at guard while with Atlanta.
Last year he earned time in the Falcons’ debut at Chicago but was cut the next day. He later joined the Chiefs as a practice team member for the final five weeks of the season but didn’t tell any of his former Iowa teammates on the Chiefs’ roster until he arrived.
“When Rob got here, he kind of surprised us,” said Chiefs quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who took snaps from Bruggeman at Iowa. “He didn’t tell us on purpose.”
Bruggeman re-signed with the Chiefs after the season, but he’s exhausted his time on the practice squad. NFL rules allow a player two years on the practice team so there’s no real safety net for Bruggeman if he doesn’t make the team. But Bruggeman hasn’t given that any thought. He’s working practice-by-practice to earn a roster spot. Whatever happens at the end of camp, well, just happens.
“You try not to analyze it too much,” said Bruggeman after a scrimmage against the Arizona Cardinals at Chiefs training camp. “Just go out and play your best and let the chips fall where they may.”
Bruggeman already has given his coaches a good impression. He’s fighting through a finger/hand injury that requires him to wear a cast, Crennel said. His versatility is a plus, as is his toughness.
“He has been working at camp with somewhat of a handicap because he has had a finger issue,” Crennel said. “He’s been trying to play with a cast on it, to his credit as a matter of fact. But he’s a tough guy, and he’ll fight you. He’s making decent progress as far as learning the system and being able to compete for a job. So once we get him into the game, we’ll see how he does.”
Tuesday, Bruggeman sought advice from former Chiefs and Iowa center Casey Wiegmann, who attended the practice as a guest. Wiegmann retired in the offseason after playing 16 NFL seasons, including nine of the last 11 with the Chiefs.
Bruggeman feels a kinship with Wiegmann, who played at Iowa from 1991 through 1995. Wiegmann’s durability — he started 175 consecutive games and played nearly 11,200 consecutive snaps — is almost legendary.
“I think just the opportunity that we’re practicing against the Cardinals and having him here … he’s just a great guy,” Bruggeman said. “His wisdom, if you can absorb anything is great. He’s a heck of a player, a heck of a guy.
“He’s amazing. He was undersized and people counted him out the whole time but he came out every game and played his heart. He’s a heck of a guy to look up to.”
Bruggeman, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 286 pounds, vies to become Wiegmann’s heir apparent. They have a similar background — Wiegmann also was an undrafted free agent and an Iowa native. But that’s where the similarities end. Bruggeman is as humble as he is tough and his admiration for Wiegmann is too strong to make any comparisons.
Plus there’s always work for a football player, and Bruggeman is no exception. He had no problems holding his own against reserve defensive linemen for both the Cardinals and Chiefs in several drills over two days worth of practices. He keeps a good attitude and wants to show Chiefs coaches he has value.
“You always try to get on film, an opportunity to play,” Bruggeman said. “You always want to get on the field any way possible, whether it’s special teams or play guard, play center or anything you can to get on the field.
“This is the year. I’ve got to make the team.”