ANDERSON –Growth for NFL players happens at different intervals and for divergent reasons.
Jerry Hughes was the top pick of the Colts in 2010 and his first two seasons did not produce the results he had expected after joining the team out of TCU.
Now in his third year, Hughes is a part of a re-shaped defense that is sporting a hybrid 3-4 scheme. His first outing in it yielded two sacks against St. Louis last Sunday. That total was double what he had amassed in his previous 24 league games, and Hughes wants to keep progressing.
"I mean, yeah, I guess you could say that (it helped my confidence) but at the same time it's football so there's a lot more aspects of the game that I'm going to target on to just kind of get better," said Hughes. "It did feel good but mainly we got the win. That's what we kind of set out there for the team to do, so it's important for us to go out there and get that. We understand that it's a preseason game, but it's a good stepping-stone in that direction. Now we're all just hitting film and trying to get better."
Hughes is busy learning about himself and his role in the new defense being employed under Head Coach Chuck Pagano and Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky. Both Pagano and Manusky are veteran defensive minds in the league, and they see talents in the third-year player.
"He's doing really well. He's a very athletic guy and there is a reason he was drafted where he was drafted," said Pagano. "He was very productive in college and you're starting to see why they took him where they took him. He's explosive. Like the rest of the guys, he's getting this scheme down. He's learning the terminology.
"I think once he fully grasps everything and what we're doing with him, we're going to be able to move him around and do some things with him because he is an athletic guy. He can stand up. He can drop. He can rush off the edge. It doesn't matter which side. He can go up the middle. So he's a guy that people are going to have to deal with."
"He's got ability, he's got the knowledge of the game and he put it to work on Sunday. I was excited to see him get a couple of sacks," said Manusky. "The sky is the limit. He's growing inside of the defense, and I'm expecting good things from him. I remember when he first came out of TCU, I would have loved to have him where I was at, and I'm happy to have him right now."
Indianapolis has not employed a 3-4 look since 1992. It has been an adaption process under a new staff for Hughes. The coaching staff and General Manager Ryan Grigson kept open minds on personnel when they came on board this past off-season. During the spring, they were able to watch players on hand to gauge talent and the ability to buy into the new system.
For Hughes and the athletic talent he possesses, he feels like this is a profitable time.
"It's a fun system," said Hughes. "We're going out there and he's (Manusky) putting 11 guys out there on the field that are going to run around and make plays. It's a lot of fun but now we're just getting used to the playbook, getting used to each other so that way we can be quick and (hit) on all cylinders."
With the reality of being a former top draft pick, observers are quick to reference the past two years. The fact is what has happened has happened. The only important thing is controlling the moment and pointing forward.
"I don't really focus so much on the past. The past is the past," said Hughes. "I can't fix it. I can't change it. I just go ahead and just worry about the future. I've got my mind set on this season and doing what it takes to kind of get the Colts back in the winning light like we're used to."
Hughes is not the only defensive player trying a new hand in a different position. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, players with a combined 19 years experience, 11 Pro Bowls and 186 sacks, have moved from defensive end to outside linebacker just as has Hughes. It will be a more multiple look for the Indianapolis defense and one that will have players performing new tasks.
Hughes is all eyes and ears and will play at full speed. Should a mistake happen, it will happen at 100 miles per hour.
"It really is a new position to me," said Hughes. "I've never played outside linebacker so I've been up here since April kind of getting used to the playbook, getting used to the coaches so we're just trying to work. I'm just trying to get better so that I can continue to play fast."
"This is pretty much brand new. In college I was a defensive end, so I don't really know too much about dropping or reading coverages or anything like that. This is a little bit of transition but like I said, we've been up here since April. Everybody's been up here working hard and we're just trying to put in the work so it will pay off on Sundays."