It was a little more than a week before Christmas, and Karl Klug was wearing a walking boot as the Tennessee Titans prepared to take the field and battle the Kansas City Chiefs.
A strained Achilles was the source of Klug’s problems as he struggled with mobility the week before the game. But it wasn’t going to keep the Caledonia High School graduate on the sideline.
“We get paid to play, right?” Klug said from his home in Tennessee. “I was at a point where I was in a walking boot at the beginning of the week, but I was able to move around (and practice) by the end of the week.
“If I could play, I was going to play.”
Klug, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound defensive tackle, did his job until running into trouble in the second half. That’s when he jumped over an offensive lineman’s attempt at a cut block.
“When I came down,” Klug said, “I knew it was bad.”
A series of thoughts flew through Klug’s mind immediately after the injury.
The first, of course, was the severity, which he wouldn’t know until later that day — it was a torn left Achilles tendon.
Another was his future in the sport. Klug’s contract was expiring, and he didn’t know what role the season-ending injury and surgery to follow would play in getting another deal with the Titans or a new one with any other team in the NFL.
“When I was on the field, I had huge concerns,” said Klug, a member of the All-Big Ten first team during his playing career at the University of Iowa. “That was hard to swallow. I didn’t know what was going to happen.
“Were we going to have to move?”
The Titans beat the Chiefs 19-17 that day. Jacksonville blew them out 38-17 the next week before Tennessee came back to beat Houston 24-17 to close out the season with a 9-7 record that left it on the outside of the playoff picture.
But despite the concern that accompanied the injury, Klug was quickly assured that he will be around to help the Titans try to become a playoff team again for the first time since he was playing for the University of Iowa in 2008.
With a long road of rehabilitation still ahead and without the likelihood of his role as a situational defensive lineman changing, Klug was offered a new contract without even having to discuss opportunities with other teams.
“During exit meetings, both our general manager (Jon Robinson) and coach (Mike Mularkey) expressed that they wanted to bring me back,” Klug said. “We have some young guys around here, and they could have said that was it. No matter where you are or what you do, it’s a good feeling to know you are wanted.”
Klug, 29, signed in March a two-year contract worth $5 million that includes base salaries of $1,250,000 plus bonuses after a $1 million guarantee.
The injury against the Chiefs forced Klug to miss the last two games — the only two he has missed in a six-year career — and have surgery. That signaled the beginning of a long rehabilitation process that continues today as the Titans near the beginning of training camp.
“It’s something you have to baby a little bit,” said Klug, who was in on 26 tackles and recorded 1½ sacks last season. “At the very beginning, I was able to go for 30 minutes. Then I moved up to an hour, then to 90 minutes, which is about as long as you should go.”
Klug’s goal is to be ready for enough work in camp to be on the field when Tennessee opens the season at home against Oakland on Sept. 10.
“I should be able to go by the first game,” Klug said. “I will be super disappointed if I’m not out there.”
Seeing Klug back on the field by the first game wouldn’t surprise many who watched him play on lower levels. The defensive tackle credited his parents and coaches at both Caledonia and Iowa for instilling the toughness and will to succeed inside of him.
“When I think of Karl like that, I think of one specific moment during one of our games,” said Caledonia assistant coach Brent Schroeder, who coached Klug on defense. “He was bloody from something or other that happened, and I remember his brother Kevin standing there and wiping the blood off of him so the referee wouldn’t see it and take him out of the game.
“He was a tough guy, and he didn’t want to miss any part of any game, and I’m not surprised at the way he has come back from the injury.”
Once getting back on the field, Klug will look for the role he’ll play to help the Titans end their playoff drought. Tennessee cut nose tackle Al Woods in the offseason and brought in 6-2, 313-pound Sylvester Williams from Denver to take his place.
Entering camp, Jurrell Casey and DaQuan Jones are projected to start up front with Williams in Tennessee’s 3-4 formation. Klug said the team needs to get better at pass defense and that the group of front has to be more effective as pass-rusher in order for the team to improve.
Klug will continue in the backup role at which he has succeeded. He has 20 sacks and bene in on 110 tackles in 94 career games — eight of which he has started — with Tennessee.
“Everybody wants to play more than they do, but I look at it as I am a situational pass rusher who gives guys a break in our base defense,” said Klug, who had a career-high seven sacks as a rookie. “That’s what they brought me back to do, but I’ll do whatever they need.”