INDIANAPOLIS – At 6-6, 323 pounds, Colts guard Mike Tepper brings more than just size to the offensive line unit.
In a season that has seen the offense face a continuous uphill battle due to injuries, Tepper's experience with adversity and willingness to play wherever he is needed should prove to be assets as the Colts move through the final six games of the season.
Although he is only in his first NFL season, Tepper already has experienced and overcome more adversity than some veterans in the league. While playing at California, he sustained a series of injuries that could have ended most playing careers.
"I got ran over by a car twice, and was dragged under the car for about 30 feet. I was told I might not ever play sports again," Tepper said of his worst college setback. In 2005, while trying to prevent a group of men from accosting a friend, the group of harassers ran into him and drove over his leg twice, leaving significant damage. However, with an intense rehabilitative regiment, Tepper was able to run again a mere six months after the surgeries following his injuries – about a year and a half sooner than what doctors originally expected.
The season following his leg injury, Tepper appeared in 13 contests for the Golden Bears.
However, adversity is an ever-present adversary, and the next year saw Tepper sidelined for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. After receiving a rare sixth year of eligibility, he started all 13 games of his senior season and earned a selection to the All-Pac 10 first-team.
Fighting his way back from numerous injuries, Tepper was able to make it to the NFL, an accomplishment that many people thought was unlikely.
"From that perspective, coming back to be able to play college ball and now be in the NFL is pretty miraculous," Tepper said.
Tepper originally signed with Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2010. He was waived at the close of training camp. At the beginning of this season, Tepper found himself facing adversity again – this time fighting for an opportunity just to make the Colts roster on the practice squad.
After persevering through the first few weeks of the season, though, Tepper eventually was signed to the team's 53-man roster.
"I remember Coach Caldwell always reminding me, 'Stay in it.' He pulled me aside and said, 'Hey we're going to waive you to the practice squad. Just stay in it, you never know what's going to happen. It's a long season. This is the longest thing you're ever going to experience in regards to playing football. So just be ready and stay in the playbook.' I knew the playbook, practiced the technique and next thing you know, I'm playing. I'm glad that I did what he advised me to do, and obviously it's paid off now."
Once signed, Tepper first saw action late in the Tampa Bay game when he was called upon to play tackle. Indianapolis had suffered injuries to first-round draft pick Anthony Castonzo early in the game against the Buccaneers. Second-round pick Ben Ijalana was injured next, so Jeff Linkenbach was moved from right tackle to the left side. It left a void, and an opportunity. Tepper, who had moved up to the active roster only that afternoon, hit the field.
"All of a sudden they were like 'Hey, we need someone to play tackle,' and I was pretty much the only guy who had any type of tackle experience whatsoever. So I entered into (the) Tampa Bay (game) in the fourth quarter and played three series at right tackle."
Counting the Tampa Bay contest, he has seen action in five games this season, including three consecutive starts at guard. While he was indeed surprised at being called upon to play tackle, Tepper had no hesitation at jumping in and filling the 'Next Man Up' role.
Impressed by Tepper's versatility and willingness to do whatever the team needs, offensive guard Ryan Diem said this of the first-year pro, "Mike got kind of thrown into the fire during one of the games where we had a lot of injuries. He actually had to play out of position a little bit at right tackle. He went in and did the best he could. Since then, he's been able to fill in for some other injuries at the left guard position. He's doing pretty well."
Hearing positive comments from his teammates, Tepper gives the credit to his progress this season to his fellow linemen.
"(Mike Pollak) tries teaching me some of his tricks of the trade and he has pulled me under his wing and helped me out a lot, as well as Jeff Saturday and Ryan Diem," said Tepper.
When asked about his teammate's performance and progress in his limited time, Colts center Jeff Saturday had nothing but positives to say about Tepper.
"Obviously he's come in on the practice squad, and then with all of the injuries and stuff he's moved up. I think he's done a good job playing. He practices hard, he prepares. He's a smart guy. I think he's doing a good job."
Whether it has been fighting through injuries or playing wherever the team needs him, Tepper has been willing to do whatever is necessary to make his way to where he is at now. Now that he has started a few games, he is by no means taking it for granted. Knowing better than most that a season can be taken away in an instant, Tepper is enjoying every minute of his football experience.
"It's been an exciting rollercoaster, to be able to start and play at the National Football League level," he said. "It's an exciting event for me."