Larry Dean left a big void to fill in the middle of the Ticats defence when he signed a free agent deal with Edmonton but Hamilton may have found a worthy replacement.
The team signed linebacker Justin Tuggle on Tuesday and he’s sure to be in the competition for the middle linebacker spot vacated by Dean.
Tuggle started 16 games for the Toronto Argonauts in 2018, 12 of those coming at the “MIKE” or MAC” spot. That’s starting experience the Ticats could use after Dean, the 2018 East Division Most Outstanding Defensive Player, left for the Eskimos.
The 29-year-old Tuggle made 63 tackles, four special teams stops, three quarterback sacks, forced two fumbles and recovered two more last season. Through 35 career CFL games, Tuggle has 94 tackles, 17 on special teams, six sacks, three forced fumbles and one interception. Tuggle played in the Argos 2017 Grey Cup victory.
After going unselected in the 2013 NFL draft, Tuggle signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Houston Texans. He spent three seasons with the Texans playing in 42 games – starting 11 games – making 71 tackles, defending two passes, forcing one fumble and intercepting one ball. The Cleveland Browns inked a free agent deal with Tuggle in 2016, but he didn’t make it out of training camp.
Ticats director of U.S. scouting Spencer Zimmerman was the assistant general manager in Toronto for two years and director of scouting for one season, tracking Tuggle in the NFL and playing a role in bringing him to the Argos and now the Ticats.
Tuggle’s dad Jesse was a five-time All-Pro middle linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons nicknamed “The Hammer”.
Tuggle will have some competition in the Hammer. Lucas Wacha spent last season in the Steel City playing 18 games mainly on special teams where he recorded 16 tackles. That work earned Wacha a start at middle linebacker in the final week of the regular season.
Chris Frey is the other man in the middle linebacker mix. Frey played four seasons at Michigan State University and spent 2018 NFL training camp in Carolina making nine tackles in four pre-season games, but the Panthers released Frey prior to the start of the regular season.
Tuggle has the most CFL experience which makes him the favourite to takeover in the middle in Hamilton.