Texans rookie Juice Scruggs embracing starting role

Hunched over the football, Texans rookie center Juice Scruggs delivered a crisp shotgun snap to rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud and sprung out of his blocking stance to lock up with towering Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Raekwon Davis.

Scruggs did a solid job of gaining leverage and prevented Davis from collapsing the pocket.

As important as the progression of Stroud is to the big picture of the team, so is Scruggs’ development. With starting center Scott Quessenberry out for the season on injured reserve with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, Scruggs’ readiness is pivotal as he starts every play for the Texans’ first-team offense with a backward flick of his wrist.

“Definitely very unfortunate, especially for Ques, he’s worked very hard and he’s been a great mentor for me,” Scruggs said. “Definitely took me under his wing, helping teach me the offense. And, yeah, that’s exactly what went to my head: ‘Next man up.’ And I’ve just been preparing like I’m going to be the starter anyways. So, when that happened, all that preparation, it allowed me to go out there and just be comfortable.”

During his NFL preseason debut against the New England Patriots, in a dozen snaps, the second-round draft pick from Penn State acquitted himself well in his first game action on some combo blocks with left guard Kenyon Green.

Scruggs didn’t look out of place at all. He looked strong and confident.

“There’s some good stuff to build on,” Texans offensive line coach Chris Strausser told KPRC 2. “Twelve plays is not a lot to evaluate, but there was enough stuff to see there. Definitely got some of the details stuff to clean up that you would probably expect from a rookie, but he’s showing his athleticism, which was exciting to see. Just really working through some of those things.”

How Scruggs fares against the Dolphins is another step in his pathway toward starting the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

In terms of readiness and preparation, Scruggs is gaining a comfort level. His primary focus, though, is on the Dophins.

“Yeah, definitely ready, but I don’t want to look ahead,” Scruggs said. “I’m not the type to look ahead even though Week 1 is what our main goal is, but right now I’m just focused on Miami coming up for the preseason game.”

Selected to the East-West Shrine Bowl all-star game, Scruggs was acquired after the Texans traded back into the second round to select him 62nd overall following a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles as they sent them their 65th, 188th and 230th overall selections to acquire Scruggs.

“What I’ve seen from Juice is I’ve seen a guy who will step in, and doing a really good job of handling a lot of different positions, playing guard, playing center,” Texans coach DeMeco Ryans said. “I see a guy who is able to handle multiple things, operate efficiently inside. So, we’re pleased with where Juice is.”

Instead of cross-training at guard, now Scruggs is strictly a center.

That helps him concentrate on one job at a time, and it’s why they drafted him.

“That definitely helps a lot, especially going from left guard, right guard, back to center,” Scruggs said. “It’s definitely a little mind-boggling, but just focusing on center, it’s definitely a lot easier. For sure.”

Officially named Frederick Henry, Scruggs got his nickname as a child who didn’t like to drink milk. Born in Ashtabula, Ohio before attending high school at Cathedral Prep in Erie, Pennsylvania, Scruggs emerged as a blue-chip recruit and state Lineman of the Year who chose the Nittany Lions over LSU, Ohio State and Michigan

Now, the Texans chose him to upgrade center position. Although Scruggs, a team captain and third-team All-Big Ten Conference selection has played guard, the Texans viewed him more as a center. The Texans drafted Scruggs after two centers were selected ahead of Scruggs with the New York Jets picking Wisconsin center Joe Tippmann and the New York Giants selected Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz.

He’s adapting to the speed of the game and making calls on the line of scrimmage to adjust the blocking schemes.

“It’s definitely a challenge, but it’s definitely something I’m willing to do,” Scruggs said. “I’m more than capable of doing. Something I had to do at Penn State, and it’s just going to translate to the next level. And definitely, it’s a lot more at this level, but it’s just something I’m getting more comfortable with each day, each practice.

“I’ve got to just keep chipping away at it. You’ve just got to react, and that’s all it’s about is just playing ball at the end of the day. You’ve just got to react, got to be on your toes.”

In the NFL, things happen fast. And the power and speed of the elite defensive linemen is a major challenge, especially for a relatively raw rookie.

“They get off the ball and they hone in on that snap count, they’re looking at the ball, for sure,” Scruggs said. “At Penn State, it got me ready because we had a lot of guys that could come off the ball, had great first steps, explosive first steps. And I feel like it got me prepared for now. Those guys are getting off the ball real fast, but I definitely think I adjusted.”

Scruggs (6-foot-3, 310 pounds) has overcome significant difficulty in his life.

Scruggs was in a serious car accident in 2019, fracturing his L3 vertebrae and suffering a concussion. He was in a back brace for eight months and missed the entire season. He battled his way back and got back on the field against Maryland in 2020, nearly two years after the crash and appeared in seven games as a reserve. By 2021, Scruggs was a 13-game starter and an honorable-mention All-Big Ten selection.

At the time of his injury, there was legitimate concern about whether he could play football again. Scruggs was determined to get back on the field as soon as possible, and it was a long road back.

“It went through my head, at the same time, I wasn’t going to let that be the end of my career,” Scruggs said. “I just knew it was going to be a long road, and I was just ready to do whatever I needed to do get back on the field again.

“I’m very thankful. Just to be alive, to be honest with you. God is good. Just got to play football, man. It’s a blessing, and I don’t take it for granted.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

Sponsored Content

Sponsored Content