AT THE READY

Cornerback Dante Hughes, a third-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft, has played relatively sparingly in his first two NFL seasons. The key to his development now, the former All-America corner from California said, is focusing on being even more prepared than he has been the past two seasons.

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Colts CB Hughes' Focus is on Being Prepared

INDIANAPOLIS – A lot of Dante Hughes' preparation is just about being more prepared.

Hughes, a third-year cornerback for the Colts, said recently if there were anything that was different in his first two NFL seasons than when he was an All-America in college, it was the idea of having to be ready at a moment's notice.

Not that Hughes didn't want to be ready.

It was just that being ready – really, really ready – was more difficult than it might sound.

Actually, it was a lot more difficult.

"I want to get my football I.Q. up," Hughes said recently during the Colts' offseason conditioning program at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center.

"I feel like that was one of the things that were a factor in last season. When you play a reserve role and you get thrown into the fire really quick, it's different. Someone can go down quick, but you need to be just as sharp as that person – if not, even sharper.

"That's one of the things I felt like I needed to work on."

Hughes, a third-round selection in the 2007 NFL Draft from California, said the biggest reason for the adjustment to being a reserve came because he'd never really played the role.

Hughes in 2005 and 2006 was one of the nation's top collegiate defensive playmakers. He intercepted 15 passes, including eight as a senior. He also returned four of the interceptions for touchdowns, and his interceptions total and 30 passes defensed ranked second in school history.

The most imant thing Hughes said he did in college was play. A lot.

He started 31 games, and it was that playing time that he said allowed him to learn opposing offenses and make plays despite not possessing elite-level speed and quickness.

In the NFL, he has yet to get that sort of playing time.

And he said that has made the NFL difficult at times.

"Even the physical aspects of it – not just the mental," Hughes said. "You have to be basically warm for 30 minutes. You may not play until the second half, so all that time you're idle on the sidelines. You have to stay physically prepared as well as mentally focused and into the game – everything that went on before, different plays, the corrections going on . . ."

Hughes in two NFL seasons has played 14 games, with most of that time coming on special teams and as a reserve. He has 19 career tackles, an interception and two passes defensed. He said a lack of constant playing opportunities has made the times he has gotten a chance more difficult.

And when the opportunities do come, Hughes said there understandably is a high level expected from any member of the Colts' secondary – starter or reserve. Not that Hughes said he wasn't ready, or that he didn't feel he was prepared in the past. He just said that to take the next step to the level at which he wants to play there is a different level of preparation necessary, too.

"Our secondary is pretty experienced now – (starting corner) Marlin (Jackson) is in his fifth year and (starting corner) Kelvin (Hayden) is in his fifth year – so you have to be just as good as those guys and you have to get ready to play," Hughes said. "It's kind of like you have to work even harder than them, because you have to be just as good as them when they get in the game.

"You have to be ready on your first rep. You can't miss a heartbeat when you're out there. They're all depending on you when you come in, whether it's the nickel or whatever it is."

Hughes said the preparation is perhaps more important considering his style of play. He said having depended on intelligence and savvy in college as much as physical ability meant also depending on knowledge gained from experience, experience he hasn't yet had in the NFL.

"I'm the type of person where I can play when I'm in the midst of a game, when I can actually read what the quarterback did on the three plays before, when I'm in the flow of the game," Hughes said. "That was my thing in college. I would always pick situations to gamble in, and that's when I would come up with plays: when there would be a calculated risk. It was based on knowledge of what the receiver did – if I felt like the receiver was tired, if they brought in a new receiver. Those are all things you get with the flow of the game, but if you're not in the flow of the game, then you just have to come in and it's like you've got to come in, know your assignment and do your job, but that's something you have to work on."

And Hughes said that may mean gleaning information in a different way than he has in the past.

"You have to be able to step in and do your thing," Hughes said. "That's why I'm like, 'I have to step up my playbook and make sure I'm not guessing out there.' I have to already know what's going on, pay attention to the flow of the game and be as alert as possible on the sidelines.

"You have to watch slowly, ask a lot of questions and and when the starters come off the field, you have to ask them, 'What are you doing? What's going on?' You have to find a new way to get the knowledge, because it's definitely needed in the game."

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