GREEN BAY – Thrust into the starting lineup not long after arriving on the Indiana campus, offensive tackle Jason Spriggs wasn’t thinking much about a future in the NFL.
Weighing less than 250 pounds back in 2012, he was simply focused on survival.
“I was just worried about doing the best I could as a freshman playing in the Big Ten,” said Spriggs, whom the Packers traded up to select in the second round of last month’s NFL Draft. “That was a huge thing for me.”
Some huge challenges early on helped Spriggs’ lifelong NFL dream take shape.
In just the fifth game of his college career, Spriggs found himself matched up against Michigan State pass rusher William Gholston. He held Gholston without a sack, and Tampa Bay’s eventual fourth-round draft pick in 2013 recorded just four tackles, only one of consequence in a narrow homecoming loss for the Hoosiers.
Fast forward to Spriggs’ sophomore and junior seasons, and he had a pair of head-to-head battles with Missouri’s Shane Ray. Over the 2013-14 campaigns, Ray posted 19 sacks, but he had just one in the two meetings with Indiana. Ray would go on to win Southeastern Conference defensive player of the year and was drafted in the first round, 23rd overall, by Denver in 2015.
More than surviving, Spriggs was showing an ability to rise to the occasion. He was relishing the big showdowns, one of many signs he was heading for the NFL.
“It’s one of those things you have to balance – getting pumped up and staying relaxed – so you don’t go flying and overset somebody,” Spriggs said of his approach to those high-profile matchups.
“You have to be patient and wait on the pass rush, but at the same time, there’s a sense of urgency. It’s just a constant battle all game, and that’s really what you want.”
The Packers clearly wanted Spriggs, trading away two extra picks to move up and take him. He had a first-round grade on many draft boards around the league, which he attributed to the guidance he got from Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson and offensive line coach Greg Frey.
It also helped that by the time the 6-foot-6 Spriggs had put in four years and 47 games as a starter, he had bulked up from that sub-250-pound freshman into a 300-pound senior.
“Just bringing a work ethic, buying into the program, buying into the coaching and being coachable and doing what they wanted me to do is the whole reason I got here,” he said.
Spriggs by no means considers himself a finished product, though. A viable candidate to back up both the right and left tackle spots for the Packers in 2016, Spriggs confesses he has a lot to learn, and a lot of studying to do.
During rookie orientation, Spriggs was already looking forward to it. As he began the transition to football becoming his full-time job, Spriggs sounded like a guy whose commitment to the game would not get off track.
“You’re taking away all the other distractions and you’re focusing on football all the time,” Spriggs said of his expected rookie lifestyle. “You get the film work off the field, get your head in the playbook.
“I really want to prove myself. I want to prove I can play in this league and play on this team.”
In college, he did so early on in key matchups. In the NFL, he plans to be ready for whenever the opportunity arises.
“That’s part of proving yourself,” he said. “You have to be able to learn all this stuff and put it together on the field.”