During his first seven years in Buffalo, defensive end Jerry Hughes has been one of the key contributors to the Bills defensive success, but he’s never had to do much more than that.
Now, in his eighth season on the Bills defensive line, Hughes, who was recently named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording six tackles, two sacks and his first career interception, is taking on a new role as a leader and Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier got a good first-hand look at that this past Sunday, as the team’s official website detailed.
“Early in the game when we were behind Jerry was so positive and encouraging his teammates on the sideline and I remember saying to myself ‘That’s what you need out of one of your star players, who is a leader.’” Frazier said. “He wasn’t pointing fingers and you could tell that he never thought we were going to lose that game. You could hear it in his voice. Then for him to go out and play the way that he played, along with leading on the sideline it was really encouraging.”
The Bills did end up bouncing back from a rough start defensively against the New York Jets on Sunday. After rookie Dane Jackson picked off Sam Darnold towards the end of the first half, the Bills only allowed four yards the rest of the game and Hughes was a big part of that. He tallied three quarterback hits, a deflected pass, and his interception in the final minute of the game sealed the victory for Buffalo.
Jerry Hughes is Growing as a Leader
The Buffalo Bills defense has always had a leader. In recent years defensive tackle Kyle Williams filled that position, then it went to Lorenzo Alexander. But, after both retired in recent years the Bills had to find a player to fill that void.
With his performance on Sunday, both on the field and off of it, the Bills coaching staff believes that Hughes is the next guy up and through the first seven weeks of the season he’s shown it.
After a disappointing loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, Hughes brought it upon himself to bring the defensive linemen together to watch the game tape, without any coaches present.
“We didn’t talk about things that needed to be done with the d-line, it was more about Jerry taking it upon himself to bring those guys together and figuring it out,” Frazier said. “I know they all got together and watched that game tape together and I was just so encouraged by Jerry on Sunday.”
Although he hasn’t had to do it in the past, Hughes has been working towards a leadership role for quite some time and Sunday was a good sign of things to come for the Buffalo defense.
“I saw Jerry do it at a level I haven’t seen before although he has been working towards that,” Frazier said. “I think that bodes well for us in the future.”
He’s Growing as a Player as Well
The veteran defensive end has made significant strides as a player too.
In the past, Hughes has been known to let his passion get the best of him. In his eight years in Buffalo, he’s had 15 unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness penalties and he’s also committed five roughing the passer penalties that have given opponents big chunks of yardage at key moments of the game.
So far through this season, Hughes has only committed two offsides penalties and McDermott believes that comes from his growth as a leader.
“When you put that ‘C’ on your chest and when it gets sewn into your jersey, a higher sense of responsibility comes with it,” McDermott said. “I’m just proud of the way he’s embraced that. It hasn’t changed him in terms of his passion but yet he’s been able to harness some of the other pieces that have maybe become obstacles in the past.”
Hughes’ growth on the field has also come from a dedication to improving his craft and McDermott has witnessed that during his time in Buffalo.
“It’s one thing to watch players grow on the field, but then to watch Jerry and what he’s been able to do in his case on and off the field with his maturity on the field and off the field,” McDermott said. “His approach week in and week out, and that’s been good to see.”