Hughes Says Studying Playbook Priority in Coming Weeks
INDIANAPOLIS – The first impression made quite an impression on Jerry Hughes.
Hughes, a defensive end from Texas Christian University, may have been the most high-profile player in the meeting room at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center Friday morning.
But that didn't make him unaffected by what happened. Because what happened was into the room walked not only Colts middle linebacker and defensive captain Gary Brackett, but Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
As in, four-time NFL Most Valuable Player Peyton Manning . . .
As in, the guy he watched on television for years . . .
As in, the guy in the commercials . . .
And that, Hughes said, made Friday a very memorable morning.
"It was pretty cool," Hughes, the No. 31 overall selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, said Friday, the first day of the Colts' 2010 three-day rookie mini-camp. "I was a Peyton fan, first starting off as a kid. Who doesn't like Peyton Manning?
"He addressed the group and told them what Colts football is all about. How when they come into the season, they expect everybody to work hard, how they treat everybody with respect."
But make no mistake:
For Hughes, the weekend that just passed wasn't about hero-worshiping, and he said even though he long has been a fan of five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney, the upcoming off-season and organized team activities won't be, either.
Hughes said he has just one objective in the coming weeks.
Learn as much as he can as quickly as he can.
Whatever is necessary, he said, to get on the field and contribute to a team that has made the playoffs an NFL-best eight consecutive seasons.
Hughes, under NFL rules, must not return to Indianapolis for two weeks. Rookies may attend one mini-camp shortly after the draft, after which they may not return until May 16.
"I'm going to be studying the playbook," he said. "That way, when it comes time for camp, I'll be on the same page with everybody else, and I'll be able to work with them.
"You've got to know your playbook. That's one thing you have to be able to do, know your playbook and be able to go out there and communicate with your teammates. It's not like, 'I'm just going to sit in and do my thing.' Everybody has to be on the same page."
And that playbook?
How does it compare to what he had in college?
"It's thicker," he said. "There's going to be a lot of studying."
Once OTAs begin, Hughes said he will studying not only the playbook, but the techniques, approach and style of Colts defensive ends Robert Mathis and Freeney.
Mathis and Freeney, like Hughes considered small by prototypical NFL standards, have formed one of the NFL's best pass-rushing tandems over the last five-to-six years. They are the franchise's all-time sacks leaders, with Freeney in first place and Mathis in second on the career list.
Mathis, 6-feet-2, 245 pounds, and Freeney – 6-1, 268 – are relatively similar in size to Hughes, who said he hopes to learn extensively from a tandem that has combined for seven Pro Bowl appearances.
"I'm sure they're going to have a lot of tricks of the trade they're going to show me," Hughes said. "I'm going to be able to sit back and just watch how they play the game."
Hughes led the nation in sacks with 15 as a junior and had 11.5 this past season.
"He's a pure pass rusher," Colts President Bill Polian said. "That's what he does. The sacks and statistics speak for itself."
As Hughes began preparing to do what he does in the NFL this past weekend, the theme was just that – preparation. The Colts' rookie mini-camp each off-season is not about player evaluation, but preparing the rookies as much as possible for what to expect in mid-May.
"It felt great, coming up here and getting with the coaching staff and meeting with some of the veteran players," Hughes said. "They talked to us and told us what Colts football is all about. They came in on the rookie meeting and told us right up front, 'Come in and work hard.' They expect to win and they expect us to work hard and do our best out there.
"That just shows they care about the team and shows the great leadership and great character the Colts' organization has on the team."
And as Hughes participated in his first official work as a professional Friday, he said while it was indeed work – and while the work will get more serious, focused and imant in the coming weeks – in another sense, it's not work at all.
"I wouldn't necessarily say it's a job," Hughes said. "I'm just going out there playing a game I love and having fun with it."