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.”
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
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,”
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
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