LATROBE, Pa. – It’s easy to spot the confidence on Jerry Hughes from a mile away.
The Buffalo Bills’ defensive end just looks like a star in the making. During any training camp practice, Hughes can be seen on the sideline, bobbing his head to the music. Then when he gets on the field, he’s good for at least a couple sacks per practice.
“I mean, we all do,” Hughes said when asked if he was playing with the most confidence of his career. “I can speak for the guys in the defensive line room – we all play with a tremendous amount of confidence. We want to go out there and be the best defense in the NFL, so we try to take that mentality out there on the practice field when we go to work.”
This week, that work is coming at Saint Vincent College, where the Bills are participating in a pair of joint practices with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The first was held Wednesday. The two teams will meet again at 5:30 p.m. today.
“Hopefully we can find a way to get better as a team,” Hughes said. “We’re going to go out there and work on our craft each day and just try to chip away and find something from this.”
Hughes is a year away from potentially finding the contract of a lifetime. Coming off a 10-sack season – and given the value of pass rushers in the NFL – he’s entering the final year of his contract at a perfect time.
“I don’t really think about it. I think about this year,” Hughes said of his impending free-agent status. “I think about the goals that we have set in front of us. One is the AFC East title. We want to get that banner hanging up in our building. We’re going to find a way to get it done.”
Hughes said he’d be open to a long-term contract with the Bills – “absolutely … it’s job stability.”
The question is, how much would the Bills be willing to spend on the defensive line? Mario Williams, Kyle Williams and Marcell Dareus are tentatively under contract for next season for nearly $33 million in salary-cap space.
Bills General Manager Doug Whaley didn’t have an update on the status of potential contract negotiations with Hughes, but said “we’re excited to see what Jerry can do and hopefully he’ll back up that 10-sack season with another multi-sack season.”
Hughes should have ample opportunity to put up similar big numbers based on his playing time. A year ago, he was on the field for only 53 percent of the snaps – primarily on passing downs.
This year, he’ll get a chance to prove he’s an every-down player capable of stopping the run as well as he rushes the passer.
“That’s what I’m trying to do is show them that I’m able to play the run. Someone has doubts – I don’t know who it is – but whoever has doubts, I’ll be more than happy to show them I’m capable of doing it,” Hughes said.
At 6-foot-2 and 254 pounds, Hughes is on the small side for a defensive end. Perhaps that’s why he’s heard the talk about struggling against the run.
“I have heard that,” Hughes said. “To whoever has the doubts, I’m here working on it, getting better, so I’ll be more than happy to show them come Sunday.”
Bills coach Doug Marrone said he’s notice an improvement in Hughes’ effort against the run in the team’s first two preseason games.
“This will be a good test for him the next couple of days and the rest of this preseason, but he’s performed well against the run against two pretty good veteran tackles,” Marrone said. “I see him working on getting better.”
Hughes said he’s noticed an overall improved effort against the run in the first two preseason games.
“I feel good. We’re going out there to shut teams down from running the ball. That’s what a defensive front’s job is supposed to be, to eliminate the run from the game so I’m taking that mentality,” he said. “We’re going to come out with a whole new attitude.”
Aside from the possibility of more playing time, Hughes said he doesn’t expect his role to change much in defensive coordinator’s Jim Schwartz’s system.
“Pretty much it’s the same role. Not too much has changed schematically. As far as verbiage and how we communicated on the field, it might be a little bit different, but that’s what practice is for – to get those wrinkles out and get used to using Schwartz’s terminology,” he said. “They’re not asking me to do anything different than what I did last year, so I just try to go out there and execute and just run whatever he calls.”