Hughes Understands Reaching Potential May Take Time
INDIANAPOLIS – Jerry Hughes understands the approach.
And what's more, the Colts' rookie defensive end said he has experience with the approach and in a very real sense, he believes in it.
Hughes, the Colts' first-round selection in the 2010 NFL Draft from Texas Christian University, had a solid effort in the team's preseason finale, and team officials have said in recent weeks that while he has a bright future as a pass rusher, it may take time to develop into an elite-level player at the spot.
Hughes said he gets that.
He has, after all, been through a similar situation before.
"I'm coming into a game where guys are a lot smarter, a lot stronger and a lot faster," Hughes said this week following the Colts' 30-28 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2010 preseason finale.
Colts President Bill Polian said during training camp that's not uncommon for rookie defensive ends.
The defensive end position, particularly pass-rush specialist, is one at which it often takes a season – and sometimes longer to reach one's full potential. And Polian, one of the NFL's top franchise builders and talent evaluators, said that could be true of Hughes.
Polian said the Colts understand this, and that Hughes will get the time he needs.
"He has the ability to turn the corner and maintain his leverage and stay on his feet and attack the passer," Polian said. "He has a long way to go in terms of dealing with the sophistication of the pass protection. Dwight Freeney struggled. Robert Mathis struggled. Bruce Smith struggled. Every great pass rusher struggled in their rookie – and in Bruce's case well into his second – season. . . .
"It's much more difficult to do at this level. He will struggle. You can see it. He has to learn counter moves. He has to learn when to exert leverage and when to lose speed. All of that is still to come. That said, he's very smart. He's very meticulous in his work habits. He goes about things in a highly professional and organized manner.
"I think that he's going to be a very, very good football player for a long time. You will see flashes this year, but I'm guessing only flashes."
Hughes showed some signs of his first-round ability on Thursday, Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. While he had a half tackle, he also narrowly missed a sack and had pressure on other plays.
Caldwell said there was a lot to like about the performance.
"You see he showed a burst," Caldwell said. "He got up the field a couple of times and certainly came around the horn a couple of times. He was very close to the quarterback and had him one time – he just kind of slipped off.
"He showed he has speed, power and the ability to run."
Caldwell said Hughes was as effective in a special teams role.
"He did a nice job in special teams as well," Caldwell said. "Jerry really made progress, I think, from the beginning of training camp until now. He's coming."
Hughes said he also saw progress in the preseason finale.
"It went pretty well," Hughes said. "I was able to get adjusted to the game, to the speed. I just had fun playing football."
Of his near-miss sack, Hughes said, "It was a bad read by me. I jumped on one of the (quarterback's) pump fakes. He ducked around me. I have to work on practicing that and following through in the game. But it felt good getting back in the swing of things."
Caldwell had said Hughes likely would play extensively in the preseason finale not because the Colts needed to evaluate him as much as it would be a chance to get Hughes valuable playing time. Hughes said overall he believes he has improved gradually throughout the preseason, which he said is all he can expect from himself during his rookie season. He also has spent time trying to learn from Freeney and Mathis.
"I have two veteran, All-Pro defensive ends where I can kind of learn the game and study from them," Hughes said. "You really have to take full advantage of that. I feel like it's a great opunity from that, learn from them and see how they do things. When you get down into the trenches and work pass rush, it's more of an art and a technique than just running up field and doing whatever you can."
That perspective and approach, he said, comes from more than the words of Polian and Caldwell saying players at his position need development time. Hughes moved from offense, where he played running back, to his current position of defensive end as a freshman at TCU. He didn't love the change, at first, but he said he spent two seasons in college honing his skills and adapting to his new situation.
And while he said he hopes the process won't be as lengthy in the NFL, that process isn't something that intimidates him.
"I was patient in college for two years," Hughes said. "If I have to be patient up here, I'll be patient and do my part and try to help the team win as best as possible."
COLTS ANNOUNCE PRACTICE SQUAD ADDITIONS
The Colts on Sunday also announced five practice squad additions: QB-Tom Brandstater, DE-John Chick, WR/KR-Brandon James, DB-Mike Newton and WR-Blair White.