DE Hughes finds pass-rushing fit in Buffalo

Labeled a bust in Indianapolis, defensive end Jerry Hughes is

blossoming in Buffalo.

With 10 sacks, Hughes has already doubled the total he had in

his first three seasons with the Colts.

The 2010 first-round pick is making the most of his fresh start

after he was acquired by the Bills in an April trade that sent

Kelvin Sheppard to Indianapolis. And Hughes has carved out a niche

on a defense hoping to add to its franchise record and NFL-best 56

sacks in Sunday’s season finale at New England.

”I feel tremendous,” Hughes said Tuesday. ”To be able to get

that opportunity here, I felt great. I feel a lot more relaxed and

confident in myself.”

It’s showing.

After getting off to a slow start while he adjusted to defensive

coordinator Mike Pettine’s complex and aggressive approach, Hughes

is closing with a flourish. He has eight sacks in his past eight

games, including one of Buffalo’s season-best seven sacks during a

19-0 win over Miami last weekend.

It was part of a dominating performance in which the Bills (6-9)

limited the Dolphins to 103 yards of offense and six first

downs.

Hughes is thriving in a situational role that has him on the

field for about half of the defensive snaps.

He credits part of his success to playing on a line that

presents formidable pass-rushing threats in defensive end Mario

Williams and tackles Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus.

The opposing offensive line can’t stop all of them. And the

pass-rush threat doesn’t end there, with the Bills occasionally

blitzing off the edges with a safety or cornerback.

Add in Mario Williams’ 13 sacks and the 10 1/2 for Kyle

Williams, and it marks only the second time Buffalo has had three

players with at least 10 sacks. And the Bills are the first NFL

team with three since the 2000 Saints.

”I felt like we’ve played our best ball as the season has worn

down,” Hughes said. ”I think that speaks volumes for the amount

of talent that we have on our side of the ball. I know for me, my

confidence is high. And I’m pretty sure for the guys with me.”

Drafted 31st overall out of TCU, Hughes spent most of his time

at Indianapolis feeling like a square peg in a round hole.

At 6-foot-2 and 254 pounds, Hughes is undersized among NFL

pass-rushers. And he struggled to learn how to play linebacker in

the Colts’ 4-3 scheme during his first two seasons.

”Early on in my career, I felt like I might have gotten down on

myself because I definitely wanted to go out there and play,”

Hughes said.

His production improved last season. Hughes picked up four sacks

in 16 games, including a career-best six starts, after the Colts

made the switch to a 3-4 defense.

That still wasn’t enough to secure his future in

Indianapolis.

Hughes became expendable after the Colts used a first-round pick

to draft linebacker Bjoern Werner out of Florida State.

Hughes was traded the following week and recalls how he couldn’t

get to Buffalo fast enough.

”I didn’t want to be that guy where I was coming in late and

lagging behind,” Hughes said. ”I took it as an opportunity for me

to get out there. Someone’s going to let me play football, so I

wanted to show them that I can play.”

He has made an impression on Bills coach Doug Marrone.

”Sometimes it’s just change, sometimes it’s schematic,

sometimes it’s a cultural change, sometimes it’s just a change of

scenery, but Jerry’s production has been outstanding,” Marrone

said. ”I think Jerry is excited about the job that he’s done. We

as an organization are excited that he’s here.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org