For First-Round Selection Hughes, Start of OTAS More About Learning Than Competing
INDIANAPOLIS – The learning continues for Jerry Hughes.
And the way he sees it, that's OK.
Because that's what this time – the coming days, weeks, even months – is about for the player the Colts made the No. 31 overall selection in the NFL Draft.
Hughes, a defensive end/pass rusher from Texas Christian University, said while he very much wants to contribute as quickly as possible, he knows it's just as true that there is much to learn before that happens.
And he said that's what he's trying to do now.
So, Hughes said, while there will be time soon for competing, earning playing time and doing whatever is possible to get on the field, it's not that time. At least not yet.
"I'm still in the learning stage," Hughes said recently following a session of the Colts' 2010 organized team activities, four weeks of on-field, team-oriented activities scheduled to be held through June 11 at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.
"Right now, we've only had a couple of practices, so right now, it takes a lot to kind of get in there and learn that playbook and get familiar with it."
Hughes, a two-year starter at Texas Christian, played as a reserve as a freshman and sophomore, then emerged as one of the nation's top pass rushers the following season. He had 15 sacks as a junior, then 11.5 more as a senior.
How much rookies contribute immediately often depends on circumstance, and for a pass rusher, big numbers in terms of sacks sometimes come slowly.
Dwight Freeney, one of the Colts' starting defensive ends, is the franchise's all-time sacks leader. He was the No. 11 overall selection in the 2002 NFL Draft, and had 13 sacks as a rookie, but didn't move into the starting lineup until midway through the season.
Robert Mathis, the Colts' other starting end, is second on the franchise's all-time sacks list. Like Freeney, he has made the Pro Bowl each of the past two seasons, but Mathis played sparingly as a rookie, emerging as one of the Colts' top pass rushers in his second season, 2004.
Colts President Bill Polian during the draft called Hughes a pure pass-rusher who can fill the third pass-rusher role for which the team long has searched.
"We've been searching for the elusive third rusher for a long time, and now we feel like he can fill that bill," Polian said on draft weekend. "We've said seemingly forever that the third rusher who can substitute for Dwight and Robert is something we had not had. When Dwight and Robert were 100 percent healthy, the results spoke for themselves. When they've not been 100 percent healthy, the results have not been what we wanted. That's the first priority. . . .
"We have said seemingly for the last seven years, 'We need a third rusher. We need a third rusher.' We need a guy who when one of the other two fellows is out of the lineup or not 100 percent can step in and perform at a similar level. We haven't had that guy because they're so hard to find."
Polian said while Hughes can play end, he also can play a "joker" linebacker role, and for Hughes, the process of learning the roles continues.
The Colts a week following the draft held their 2010 rookie mini-camp at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center, with the idea of that session to get the eight draft selections and free-agent rookies as acclimated and adjusted as possible to the Colts' system.
At that camp, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and middle linebacker Gary Brackett – the Colts' offensive and defensive captains, respectively – spoke to the rookies to discuss what was expected of Colts players, and how the team approached preparations.
Hughes said those words became reality during OTAs, and that it was evident quickly what's expected during the off-season.
"Everybody goes out there and works hard," he said. "They work at one tempo, one speed, and they go out there and execute it and do their best.
"It feels great, just kind of sitting back and watching them work, catching on to the scheme of things. It's good to see how the veterans get out there and really work well as a unit. It's a real great experience."
Hughes during mini-camp discussed a "Wow" moment when Manning and Brackett spoke, and said there was a similar moment this week when on-field work began with veterans such as not only Manning, a four-time Associated Press National Football League Most Valuable Player, but four-time Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday and two-time Pro Bowl safety Bob Sanders, the 2007 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year.
But Hughes said it's just as true that the time for "Wow" ends quickly, and that the time to work is very much at hand.
"It's very surreal – guys you see on TV, you're always cheering for them," Hughes said. "Now, you're two or three lockers down from them. It's a very surreal feeling, but at the same time, I have to get on their page, so that way I don't let them down. . . .
"I'm very fortunate. The Indianapolis Colts are a class act, class organization and they know how to win, so what I have to do is come in here, do my part and do whatever it takes to help the team win."