In many respects, it’s been a trip down memory lane for veteran defensive end Jerry Hughes since he was signed by the Texans as a free agent this offseason.
The Sugar Land native and product of Stephen F. Austin High School without failure is hit with memories while driving through the city or even rolling up to the team facility. The 12-year NFL veteran signed with the Texans after starring for the Buffalo Bills the last nine seasons.
“Oh, man, it feels great, honestly,” said Hughes, who began his first minicamp with the Texans this week. “I was telling my wife this. I feel like I’m back in high school, just to be back in the city driving around. We used to play high school games at the Astrodome. Very familiar with coming out this way and things like that.
“Just being part of this warm environment, football city, where everyone is looking for the Texans, even though it’s baseball season, everybody still wants to know what we are going to do and how the team is looking,” he said.
The Texans definitely seem to have different energy and excitement and it has everything to do with new coach Lovie Smith and his emphasis on the defensive. General manager Nick Caserio and Smith have clearly put a priority on improving the pass rush and this offseason they not only added Hughes but also brought in his former Buffalo Bills teammate Mario Addison and Rasheem Green to give the defensive front some veteran leadership.
Hughes believes their experience can help the younger players improve faster, especially when it comes to how to handle the season, the nuances on the field and how to take coaching.
“This organization has so many people that are going to give us information,” said Hughes, who also played at TCU before being drafted by Indianapolis in the first round of the 2010 NFL Draft. “I think how to use it and play fast. I think that would be a real key point for the young guys. We have so much talent in that room. It’s just getting them to understand how great they are.”
So far through OTAs and now minicamp, Smith has been impressed with what he is seeing from Hughes. He has watched Hughes develop from college on through his years in Buffalo where he developed into a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive end who plays fast and gets after the opposing quarterback.
“To play at a high level, you have to take care of your body. You have to be a pro,” Smith said. “You can’t tell that he’s not a rookie trying to make his first team, and we need that in our program, veteran leadership like that.”
Hughes, who had a couple of double-digit sack seasons early in his career but saw his production drop significantly last season, is excited to be reunited with Addison and their former position coach Jacques Cesaire, who was hired in February to coach the defensive line. But Hughes is even more pumped about playing in Smith’s Tampa 2 scheme where he again will get to do what he does best.
“I’m a big football guy,” said Hughes. “I love to hear the scheme and as far as what Lovie was talking about, about how we get to play fast, we are not thinking, we’re reading keys, getting off the ball, that’s something that I wanted to be a part of.
“Then being home, being able to do that from home and still be a part of my kids’ lives where I can take them to the swim team practice and things like that, that’s just like icing on the cake right now. So, I’m just having a great time.”