INDIANAPOLIS – Jerry Hughes is like other Colts veterans, he is learning a new defensive system under the scrutiny of a new football regime.
Hughes joined the Colts as a first-round pick in 2010, the 31st selection overall, and he has started one of 24 appearances in the last two seasons.
The TCU product from Sugar Land, Texas has not made the impact he had intended when joining Indianapolis, but Hughes is well aware of the opportunity at hand with a new program and a fresh set of coaches to impress. He feels his spring work is beneficial.
"It's going very smooth," said Hughes of the off-season work he has done for the past month. "I had an opportunity to come in early and get my hands on the playbook, speak with the coaches and work with them. It's kind of making the transition very easy."
Hughes has totaled 15 tackles, 10 solo, and one sack while playing as a reserve defensive end during his first two seasons. He was tied for third on the squad last year with seven special teams takedowns.
Finding consistent playing time defensively has not happened quickly, but Hughes is learning a scheme that is trending toward a 3-4 look. He is being pushed like other Colts veterans who are adapting to the changes as well. Hughes is positive about the new concepts and hopes for a chance to prove himself in action.
"I'm never opposed to learning new things," said Hughes. "You always try to be open-minded. I always like learning new things and going over new (principles). You gain more knowledge with (that approach).
"With the new staff, you kind of get a fresh start. You have a fresh set of eyes looking at you. You're out there working and trying to impress them. You want to show them what you're capable of doing."
Players taken high in a draft can endure a closer watch than some others. When results do not match the expectations of observers, analysis happens. Hughes has been the periodic recipient of that treatment during his first two years, but Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky says 2012 is opportunity for everyone.
"To tell you the truth, I don't care what has happened in the past with any of these players, personally," said Manusky. "It is a clean slate, and I told them that the very first day.
"Number one, I don't know you personally. Number two, I don't know what was taught here before, that is fine and that was a great system and they had a lot of success with it, but let's transform ourselves into a system from a 3-4 perspective. From them, they are doing a lights out job."
When queried on if he thought he needs a fresh start, Hughes is not defiant. He aims to earn the chance to display his wares.
"I personally don't feel I have a need to have a new start. Having a chance to start myself and get out there in the crossfire by actually playing a full 16 games, I haven't gotten the opportunity to do so," said Hughes. "I'm just looking at it as a start with a new coaching staff. I want to get to know them, get to know my playbook first and foremost. Once I do that, I look forward to showing the coaches what I'm able to do."
General Manager Ryan Grigson has noted the attitude and work of Hughes, and he sees talent and the nature to learn his craft.
"Jerry has done some good things. The athletic ability is there," said Grigson. "The willingness to learn is there, too. He's learning the nuances of his position and the techniques involved in playing it. We're optimistic. I liked Jerry coming out of college. I don't care about last year or what have you. The time is now. We have mini-camp and training camp to gauge where people are. All you can do is hope that everyone improves and that they're ready when the lights come on. (We want players) to be at their best in preseason."
Hughes believes his maturation includes more power and a better physique. Many players to mature from year one to year two in their careers, and Hughes is seeing that progress in himself. He also notes the approach of veterans around him.
"I think I am stronger and leaner than before," said Hughes. "I am doing little things that I really didn't think about as a rookie or in my second year, things like eating (correctly), getting in the cold tub and taking care of my body. There are little things (maintenance-wise) that can help you extend your career.
"There are things to learn on and off the field. Then you have great veterans to follow like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, guys you observe on how they approach the game. You see them taking care of themselves off the field and before practices with stretching. You see how serious they are in preparation, and you take note of their leadership. It makes you better. You prepare much more in advance."
In year three, Hughes now is on his second coordinator and position coach. Manusky is joined by Gary Emanuel, the club's new line coach. Hughes likes the approach of the staff and for how it is trying to maximize the abilities of each player.
"They're putting people in positions to be successful," said Hughes. "Coaches are being smart, and they are working with you. I like the approach. All you can do it take it and run with it. I am all in."