Tyjuan Hagler Remained Ready and Made Big Impact for Colts in 2010
INDIANAPOLIS – Tyjuan Hagler had been here before.
Actually, Hagler said late in the 2010 NFL season, he has faced the situation more than he actually would have liked, but having been there before meant he knew what to expect.
So, when the veteran linebacker re-signed with the Colts early this past season and not only played immediately, but made a significant impact during a dramatic late-season run, he said in no way was he surprised.
Pleased? Yes. But surprised?
No, he said. Not a bit.
"I never lost confidence," Hagler said recently late in the 2010 season, a season in which the Colts won a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons and a season on which Colts.com will continue looking back in the coming weeks.
"I always thought I could play."
Hagler, a fifth-round selection by the Colts in the 2005 NFL Draft who was one of several players this season who helped personify the team's "Next Man Up" approach, has spent all or part of the past six seasons with the team, and when he has played, he typically has done so effectively.
At times, however, injuries have prevented that.
He missed his rookie season with a shernia injury, and never has played an entire season in the five seasons since. He earned a starting role in 2007, and after briefly testing free agency in the 2009 off-season, again earned a starting job with the Colts entering the regular season.
An injury ended his 2009 season, and when the Colts didn't re-sign him the following off-season, he spent 2010 training camp with the Seattle Seahawks before being released.
During that time, Hagler said it never occurred to him to give up football.
Instead, he said, he worked to remain ready, and remained convinced he not only would get an opportunity, but that when it came, he would take advantage.
The first few weeks of the 2010 regular season, he said, were spent monitoring the telephone.
"When it rang, I was ready," Hagler said.
That it was the Colts calling simplified the transition, Hagler said.
"I just walked right through the door," he said.
Hagler, who has played in 50 games and started 19 for the Colts in the last five seasons, said his knowledge of the Colts' defense helped upon his return.
"It was like riding a bike," he said. "This is where I belong. It was kind of easy for me."
Hagler, who re-joined the team in late September in the wake of early-season injuries at the linebacker position, played extensively throughout the second half of the season. He not only had a crucial interception that helped clinch an October victory over Cincinnati, he had one of the season's biggest plays on special teams.
"It's been good because of the fact that he certainly understands our system, how we do things," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said during the season. "He's been able to do them well. Tyjuan has speed. He is smart. He fills in a lot of roles for us. It's a nice thing to be able to use him in a nickel situation and then obviously in our special teams."
With the Colts leading the Jacksonville Jaguars, 27-24, late in a mid-December match-up at Lucas Oil Stadium, Hagler recovered an onside kick and raced untouched for the game-clinching touchdown. The victory gave Indianapolis control of the AFC South, and two weeks later, the Colts clinched an NFL record-tying ninth consecutive playoff appearance.
"It's like he never misses a beat," Colts three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis said. "He's one of the guys you call a core guy.
"He's a home-grown guy. He comes back, and it's like he's never missed a beat."
Hagler this past season played in more games – 13 – than he had in any of his previous five seasons with Indianapolis. He said the key to being productive this season was simple.
He was able to stay comparatively healthy.
"It's always been a thing," Hagler said. "My agent tells me and the coaches here tell me and management tells me, 'You're playing great,' but then an unfortunate injury happens and knocks me back. It always seems like it's something."
Hagler said while he always has remained ready whatever the situation, he's not alone in that approach around the Colts. The Colts' philosophy of Next Man Up, Hagler said, allows backups of varying degrees of experience to play effectively in varying situations.
And when called upon to start, Hagler said his experience makes that a situation he is more than capable of handling.
"I've started quite some games around here," Hagler said. "It's a role I'm used to and a role I want to continue to work toward. I'm just happy with where I am and how I've been playing.
"I always thought I could play. I just had to stay healthy."
This past season, he did just that, and he said while the situation wasn't easy – and while he said he has faced having to be ready in difficult circumstances more often in his NFL career than is ideal – being able to do so is a matter of approaching the situation positively.
This season, that's what he did, and because he did, he played a key role in the Colts' success.
And it didn't surprise him a bit.
"It was kind of difficult, because I knew I was good enough to play," Hagler said. "I knew I was good enough to be out there on somebody's team. You just have to keep your mind free.
"You just have to stay positive, continue to work hard and expect that phone to ring."