Fans never hear much about Hughes because he’s barely playing. The team’s first-round draft pick has been inactive for three games and played sparingly on special teams in the other two. It’s clear the team is bringing him along very slowly. Maybe too slowly. It’s hard to believe a 6-2, 255-pound defensive end can’t contribute on special teams. During the offseason and preseason, the team talked about how it was going to use him in special pass-rush packages. Well, we’re still waiting. The team is quick to point out – not necessarily accurately – that Dwight Freeney didn’t play a lot during the first half of his rookie season. Fact is, Freeney played quite a bit in pass-rush situations before moving in to the starting lineup at midseason.
The excuse we've heard all season from the Colts regarding Hughes' development is that, like Dwight Freeney his rookie year, it takes time for pass rushers to develop. Well, it's Week Six, and for three of the five weeks the Colts have played football games, Hughes has not been active.
Not even on special teams.
During his rookie year, Freeney was never inactive. Ever. In fact, as Chappell points out correctly, Freeney played a ton in nickel packages and as a pass rusher on third down. He had four sacks before he was promoted to starter by Week Nine at Philadelphia.
Well, Week Five has come and gone for Jerry Hughes, and instead of us talking about him as a potential starter, or even a third down pass rushing specialist (as Bill Polian sold him to fans and media on the day the Colts drafted him) we're still wondering why the club's first round draft choice cannot beat out known scrubs like Keyunta Dawson for some playing time.
But hey, to be fair, Freeney is a beast and often regarded as one of the best players in all of football. So, for a moment, let's forget comparing Hughes to Freeney even though Freeney, like Hughes, is a first round pick. Instead, compare him to Robert Mathis, who is a 5th round pick from the 2003 NFL Draft. After the jump, Mike Chappell helps provide us with that comparison.
The results do not speak well for Jerry Hughes and his prospects as a Colt in 2010.
Chappell was interviewed today on Dan Dakich's 1070 The Fan radio show. At some point in the conversation, after Dakich and Chappell finished discussing Brett Favre's penis, the focus shifted to Jerry Hughes. Here's what Chappell had to say about him:
My problem is that [Hughes] can't even help on special teams. That's my concern. Why he isn't, at least, doing something. He's been inactive for three games. He's been active twice and played a little bit on kickoff coverage. I'm not totally surprised he's not playing on defense, though if the pass rush continues to be hit and miss, I'd just assume see him out there getting some reps as a third pass rusher on third down as some other guys out there. They keep saying that Dwight Freeney didn't play a lot as a rookie until mid-season. Well, that's not quite true. He played quite a bit in nickel. Started starting mid-season against Philadelphia. Robert Mathis played a lot of special teams as a rookie, had 3.5 sacks but he was primarily a special teams guy. We'll see. I'm sort of waiting to see game six, game seven, games eight; will he do more? Maybe this is just going to be a red-shirt year. I hope that's not the case.
Like Dwight Freeney his rookie year, Robert Mathis was used as a pass rushing specialist on third down, and was quite a dominant special teams player. By Week Five that year, Mathis had two sacks.
Robert Mathis: 5th Round Pick.
Jerry Hughes: 1st Round Pick.
I'm all for giving draft picks 'time to develop.' But, at some point, 'time to develop' must give way to the kid actually doing something. He's had April through September to 'develop.' If he needs a longer period time to even get on the field to play special teams, let alone do what he was drafted to do (aka, SACK THE QB!), then why the hell was he picked?
The Colts don't need pass rushers who will develop next year or in two years. They need them now.
In fact, back in April, they even told us the need for another pass rusher right now was an important one. For two straight games this year, the Colts have generated zero sacks. Part of drafting Jerry Hughes was to help take the pressure off Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis and provide the Colts the all-important 'third rusher.' Polian told us this back in April.
Polian: We've been searching for the elusive 'third rusher' for a long time. And now we feel that [Hughes] can fill that bill.
Polian: We've said, seemingly forever, that the third rusher who can substitute for Dwight and Robert is something we have not had. And when Dwight and Robert were 100% healthy, the results spoke for themselves. When they've not been 100% healthy, the results have not been what we've wanted. So, that's the first priority. The third rusher has been a priority of ours, as I said, seemingly forever.
Polian: He gives us a lot of flexibility to create third down packages
Polian: He can put his hand down. He can stand up in the 'Joker' role. That's what he does. He's a pure pass rusher.
In fact, when asked a direct question about whether the Colts expected Hughes to contribute right away his rookie year as a pass rusher and special teams player, Polian said yes:
Question: Are you looking at this as this is that kind of guy who, situationaly, should play right away and contribute right away?
Polian: Oh yeah. And he runs well enough that he'll be a force on special teams too, I would imagine.
Now, either Bill Polian was flat out lying to the press when he said that back in April, or his scouting assessment of Hughes at the time he drafted him was dead, stinking wrong.
Today, Hughes can't even play on special teams at a time when important special teamers like Melvin Bullitt, Jamie Silva, and Kavell Conner are either done for the year, or on the shelf for an extended period of time. The team was more comfortable signing Aaron Francisco off the street and promoting someone like Mike Newton from the practice squad to play special teams over Hughes. What does that tell you?
I know some people out there who like to carry water for the Colts and Polian will cry this is yet another article needlessly bashing our 'flawless' leader. It isn't. It's me holding Bill Polian to his words. Back in April, Polian and the coaching staff stated with confidence bordering on arrogance that Hughes could contribute right away. They drafted him in the first round and signed him to a 5-year, $12 million dollar deal. Today, he can't even play special teams, let alone beat out the seemingly worthless Keyunta Dawson as a back-up defensive end.
This doesn't look good people. Either something terribly wrong happened to Hughes since he was drafted, or Polian and company very much over-rated his abilities back in April.
It's worth noting that, back in August during training camp, Polian tried to back away from his 'Oh yeah' statement regarding Hughes during a chat with Peter King:
But Polian and others have been quick to tamp down the expectation level for Hughes, noting that pass rushers have steep learning curves. The Colts don't seem to be counting on Hughes to be a big producer this year, but in early practices, they're excited about him being a long-term answer on a team with ends aged 30 (Freeney) and 29 (Mathis).
Sorry Bill, but that's not what you told us in April. Hughes wasn't drafted as a 'long term answer.' He was drafted as someone who could help Mathis and Freeney this year.
Something stinks here folks. It seems like the Colts might have screwed this pick up, and are now seemingly trying to save face.