How to Use Hughes?

Now that Jerry Hughes has been through some walk-throughs and some practices, the Colts have a better understanding of his abilities. But the team also has two Pro Bowlers at defensive end. How will they use Hughes in 2010? Brad Keller takes a look.

Now that Jerry Hughes has been through some walk-throughs and some practices, the Colts have a better understanding of his abilities. How will they use him in 2010? Brad Keller takes a look.

Heading into the draft, it was apparent that Jerry Hughes was one of the best pure pass rushers available. The question for the Colts was whether or not they would pull the trigger on a defensive end in the first round with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney already on the roster and a number of other higher priority needs that they could fill with the pick. When it came time for Indianapolis to pick, though, Bill Polian grabbed Hughes and the rest is history.


Polian liked the quickness Hughes showed during his time at TCU
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Following the draft, Polian gave some insight into the selection. "There weren't many names left on the board in the first round. Our board was incredibly accurate. We are thrilled to have Jerry (Hughes)," he said.

That's fairly standard post-draft rhetoric, but Polian expanded on why it was important that the Colts took Hughes.

"We've been searching for the elusive third rusher for a long time and now we feel like he can fill that bill," he said. "We are happy to have him. He can put his hand down and he can stand up in the ‘joker' role. He's a pure pass rusher. That's what he does."

By the time the season kicks off, Hughes will no doubt have ascended the depth chart to the top backup spot for both Mathis and Freeney. But, the key there is that no one — probably even Hughes himself — is hoping that he gets in the lineup due to an injury to the current Pro Bowl duo.

That means that the Colts will need to be creative in how they use Hughes, as Polian alluded to. Since they didn't take Hughes 31st overall to have him sit on the bench, they're going to need to get him involved in as many ways as possible on as many downs as possible.

When asked if he thought Hughes would see a lot of snaps in packages with Freeney and Mathis, Jim Caldwell said: "That's a possibility. That's what this process is for. We have an opportunity to assess their individual ability, see where they fit in within our scheme. You certainly make those kind of projections before you draft them, but now you get a chance to put them in practical application and just see what they really can do in our scheme."

That's not really a yes, but it's more of a yes than a no. Having the team's three best pass rushers on the field in passing situations would definitely be the smartest move for the team, but it wouldn't make sense the coaches and players can't agree on the best combination of positions along the line.

Freeney and Mathis would make more sense on the inside, where they would be able to match up against slower, less athletic guards and would be able to use their spin moves to disrupt protection schemes. Hughes isn't big enough or skilled enough to line up at either of the tackle positions, so he would make more sense at end with Keyunta Dawson or one of the other ends on the roster playing on the other side. Left tackles are generally better in pass protection than right tackles, so it would make more sense for Hughes to line up at left end.

The most interesting comment was from Polian, which suggests that Hughes might also line up with his hand off the ground, playing more of a rush linebacker role in the nickel and dime defenses. That would certainly disrupt the protection calls along the offensive line, but it could also be a position and set of responsibilities that Hughes isn't ready for at this point in his career.

Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos found himself in a very similar position when he was first drafted. For his first season, he was a situational pass rusher that appeared in 13 games in 2006 with zero starts. In those 13 games, he had 8.5 sacks, which would be more production from a defender not named Freeney or Mathis in this defense the past several seasons. Dumervil started the next two seasons at right end before moving to the rush linebacker position in 2009 when the Broncos switched to the 3-4 defense. He flourished in that role last season with 17 sacks and four forced fumbles, but it's very likely that he would not have been able to make such a smooth transition if he were forced to go through it as a rookie.


Hughes will have to overcome the usual rookie learning curve in 2010
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Players that lined up with their hand on the ground in college and then made the move to rush linebacker usually need at least one full season to get their sea legs and become fully acclimated to the position. Hughes will have so much thrown at him in his rookie year that it would be prudent to limit how much he needs to learn, at least until he can prove he is ready to take on the additional responsibilities.

Vernon Gholston of the New York Jets needed to process too much at once and has yet to make a full transition to the rush linebacker spot. Talent and potential are necessities, but rote, routine, and familiarity are equally important, especially with young players.

Indianapolis will miss the production and versatility of Raheem Brock in the coming season and Hughes should offer them more options and more production, but the Colts need to make sure that they don't overwhelm the young man. As Polian said, Hughes is a pure pass rusher. That's what he does. Why not let him line up and go after the quarterback? Why complicate things if there is no immediate need to?

Freeney and Mathis already do a lot of stunts and slants as part of the usual pass rush schemes. With Hughes in the mix, they would be able to pull of some very creative, most likely very effective stunts. Freeney and Hughes are fast enough that they could cross each other on the way to the quarterback, even if Hughes is lined up at left end and Freeney is lined up at nose tackle.

With his three best pass rushers coming at the quarterback at once, Larry Coyer should be able to come up with a variety of looks, schemes, and stunts that are very creative, but also highly simplified and specialized. That will eliminate a great deal of the confusion every rookie goes through and allow Hughes to focus exclusively on rushing the passer.

As Indianapolis experiments and finds out what works and what doesn't, they can always add new wrinkles. At the moment, the best thing to do is just to turn Hughes loose and watch him go.


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Now that Jerry Hughes has been through some walk-throughs and some practices, the Colts have a better understanding of his abilities. How will they use him in 2010? Brad Keller takes a look.

Heading into the draft, it was apparent that Jerry Hughes was one of the best pure pass rushers available. The question for the Colts was whether or not they would pull the trigger on a defensive end in the first round with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney already on the roster and a number of other higher priority needs that they could fill with the pick. When it came time for Indianapolis to pick, though, Bill Polian grabbed Hughes and the rest is history.

Following the draft, Polian gave some insight into the selection. \"There weren't many names left on the board in the first round. Our board was incredibly accurate. We are thrilled to have Jerry (Hughes),\" he said.

That's fairly standard post-draft rhetoric, but Polian expanded on why it was important that the Colts took Hughes.

\"We've been searching for the elusive third rusher for a long time and now we feel like he can fill that bill,\" he said. \"We are happy to have him. He can put his hand down and he can stand up in the ‘joker' role. He's a pure pass rusher. That's what he does.\"

By the time the season kicks off, Hughes will no doubt have ascended the depth chart to the top backup spot for both Mathis and Freeney. But, the key there is that no one — probably even Hughes himself — is hoping that he gets in the lineup due to an injury to the current Pro Bowl duo.

That means that the Colts will need to be creative in how they use Hughes, as Polian alluded to. Since they didn't take Hughes 31st overall to have him sit on the bench, they're going to need to get him involved in as many ways as possible on as many downs as possible.

When asked if he thought Hughes would see a lot of snaps in packages with Freeney and Mathis, Jim Caldwell said: \"That's a possibility. That's what this process is for. We have an opportunity to assess their individual ability, see where they fit in within our scheme. You certainly make those kind of projections before you draft them, but now you get a chance to put them in practical application and just see what they really can do in our scheme.\"

That's not really a yes, but it's more of a yes than a no. Having the team's three best pass rushers on the field in passing situations would definitely be the smartest move for the team, but it wouldn't make sense the coaches and players can't agree on the best combination of positions along the line.

Freeney and Mathis would make more sense on the inside, where they would be able to match up against slower, less athletic guards and would be able to use their spin moves to disrupt protection schemes. Hughes isn't big enough or skilled enough to line up at either of the tackle positions, so he would make more sense at end with Keyunta Dawson or one of the other ends on the roster playing on the other side. Left tackles are generally better in pass protection than right tackles, so it would make more sense for Hughes to line up at left end.

The most interesting comment was from Polian, which suggests that Hughes might also line up with his hand off the ground, playing more of a rush linebacker role in the nickel and dime defenses. That would certainly disrupt the protection calls along the offensive line, but it could also be a position and set of responsibilities that Hughes isn't ready for at this point in his career.

Elvis Dumervil of the Denver Broncos found himself in a very similar position when he was first drafted. For his first season, he was a situational pass rusher that appeared in 13 games in 2006 with zero starts. In those 13 games, he had 8.5 sacks, which would be more production from a defender not named Freeney or Mathis in this defense the past several seasons. Dumervil started the next two seasons at right end before moving to the rush linebacker position in 2009 when the Broncos switched to the 3-4 defense. He flourished in that role last season with 17 sacks and four forced fumbles, but it's very likely that he would not have been able to make such a smooth transition if he were forced to go through it as a rookie.

Players that lined up with their hand on the ground in college and then made the move to rush linebacker usually need at least one full season to get their sea legs and become fully acclimated to the position. Hughes will have so much thrown at him in his rookie year that it would be prudent to limit how much he needs to learn, at least until he can prove he is ready to take on the additional responsibilities.

Vernon Gholston of the New York Jets needed to process too much at once and has yet to make a full transition to the rush linebacker spot. Talent and potential are necessities, but rote, routine, and familiarity are equally important, especially with young players.

Indianapolis will miss the production and versatility of Raheem Brock in the coming season and Hughes should offer them more options and more production, but the Colts need to make sure that they don't overwhelm the young man. As Polian said, Hughes is a pure pass rusher. That's what he does. Why not let him line up and go after the quarterback? Why complicate things if there is no immediate need to?

Freeney and Mathis already do a lot of stunts and slants as part of the usual pass rush schemes. With Hughes in the mix, they would be able to pull of some very creative, most likely very effective stunts. Freeney and Hughes are fast enough that they could cross each other on the way to the quarterback, even if Hughes is lined up at left end and Freeney is lined up at nose tackle.

With his three best pass rushers coming at the quarterback at once, Larry Coyer should be able to come up with a variety of looks, schemes, and stunts that are very creative, but also highly simplified and specialized. That will eliminate a great deal of the confusion every rookie goes through and allow Hughes to focus exclusively on rushing the passer.

As Indianapolis experiments and finds out what works and what doesn't, they can always add new wrinkles. At the moment, the best thing to do is just to turn Hughes loose and watch him go.

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