Hughes Gained Confidence from Being Part of Colts' Third-Ranked Defense
INDIANAPOLIS – Confidence was never a problem for Dante Hughes.
He had it before he made the NFL and had it before he played a key role as a backup as a rookie cornerback for the Colts last season.
The events of last season just showed him he was right.
But in Hughes' case, it wasn't anything he did individually.
It was what his new team did as a group.
"Really, it was just being able to contribute to our defense," Hughes said during the Colts' recent organized training activities, 14 days of onfield workouts that concluded recently at the team's training facility.
"Our defense was Top Three in the league last year, and knowing I was part of something that good, I feel like my teammates depended on me as much as I depended on them when I was on the field. That was enough right there to let me know that this is what I want to do."
Not that he didn't know already.
Hughes, a third-round selection by the Colts in the 2007 NFL Draft, played collegiately at the University of California-Berkeley, developing a reputation while there as one of the nation's top playmaking cornerbacks.
Hughes started 41 of 51 games at Cal and was named the Pac 10 Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, the same year he won the Ronnie Lott Trophy. In four seasons at Cal, he intercepted 15 passes for 244 return yards and four touchdowns.
And while NFL analysts questioned his speed, Hughes said he never did.
And he said his rookie season showed him he was right.
Hall, who worked his way into the team's nickelback role during the first two months of the season, played in 10 games, registering 10 tackles on defense and 10 on special teams while defending one pass. He sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in the Colts' Thanksgiving Night victory over Atlanta.
The Colts placed him on injured reserve the following week, but Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said Hughes made progress as a rookie and compared him to Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson, early-round draft selections in 2005 who emerged as starting cornerbacks for the Colts in 2007.
"Dante Hughes is a lot like those guys," Dungy said "He will make the second-year jump. He was playing well when he got hurt."
Hughes said while he played just over half a season as a rookie, "I feel like I benefited from it a lot."
"Now, it's just trying to get back into the groove, but I feel comfortable out there now," Hughes said. "I feel like I can compete with pretty much anybody. I don't feel like I'm not as good as anybody else or anything just because I got hurt.
"The injury could have gone either way. I could have come back at the end of the year, but it was one of those borderline injuries. Time-wise, it was bad. I'm glad the coaches showed enough confidence in me to play me.
"I'm grateful for that, just having the opunity to play."
Hughes said he not only got the opportunity, he took advantage of it by trying to learn the Colts' defense. Although he did not have an interception in his 10 games, he said he saw opportunities of which he could have taken advantage with a bit more experience.
"I saw plays I could have made, possibly, that I could have done a little better on," Hughes said. "For the most part, it's a learning process, so you have to learn. In college, I pretty much understood my defense. I know when to gamble, so it's just about learning when you can take chances and when not to.
"As a rookie, you're not going to be out there taking a lot of chance because you just don't want to get beat. It's a matter of learning your responsibilities, learning the defense and tying to gain chemistry with your teammates and stuff. All that comes with time."
Which is what Hughes said he focused upon as much as anything this past offseason – trying to continue to learn, and get acclimated to new surroundings. He said he made serious strides in that direction, serious strides to adapting to the NFL and to being a professional, something he said should help his confidence even more.
"Just being around the whole off-season, being around football, playing it this long, it kind of becomes part of your life, really," Hughes said. "You don't just look at it like, 'OK, this is the season, but I have other stuff going on.' It's like, 'This is going to be my career for the next possibly five, six, seven, eight years and hopefully, more than that.'
"It becomes a part of your life and you implement these things – things like nutrition – that you weren't doing before that are so much more important now than they were before."
Fourth NFL season
Acquired: First round, 2005 (No. 29 overall)
A talented, physical player, Jackson was the first player selected by the Colts in the 2005 NFL Draft and he took over as a starter last season. . . . A crucial member of the Colts' secondary in his first two seasons, he played as a nickel back as a rookie in 2005 and spent time at corner and safety in 2006. . . . He started 16 games at right corner last season and had 112 tackles, half a sack, three pressures, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, one interception and five passes defensed. . . . The tackle total ranked fourth on the team. . . . His fourth-quarter interception of a pass from New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady stopped the game's final drive and clinched the Colts' 38-34 victory in the 2006 AFC Championship Game.
Fourth NFL season
Acquired: Second round, 2005
Hayden played as a nickel back and special teams player in his first two seasons, taking over as a starter last season and helping the Colts form one of the NFL's top young secondaries. . . . He had 117 tackles, including 85 solos, and intercepted three passes. . . . He also had a team-high 12 passes defensed, with two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. . . . He played in all four postseason games following the 2006 season, and his 56-yard interception return for a touchdown helped the Colts clinch a 29-17 victory over Chicago in Super Bowl XLI.
Third NFL season
Acquired: Second round, 2006
A talented, aggressive player, Jennings played in 11 games as a reserve cornerback and special teams player as a rookie, then started four of eleven games last season. . . . He had 25 tackles, including 21 solos, with seven passes defensed and a forced fumble. He also ranked third on the team with 13 special teams tackles, including 12 solos.
Third NFL season
Acquired: Seventh round, 2006
In his second NFL season last season, he played in 14 games. . . . He had 24 tackles, including 16 solos, and one pass defensed. . . . He also had six special teams tackles, including five solos, and also returned 31 kickoffs for a 23.0-yard average and 19 punts for a 13.1-yard average. . . . He had a 90-yard punt return for a touchdown against Oakland in December.