For Jerry Hughes, driving around Houston brings a nostalgia from his high school days growing up in Sugar Land, Texas. Whether it's driving by the Astrodome where he played games while at Stephen F. Austin High School or walking the aisles of H-E-B, the Texas-based supermarket chain, Hughes is happy to be home.
But for the 12-year veteran defensive lineman, returning to Houston was about finding the right fit in the Texans defense. A week earlier, his former Buffalo Bills teammate Mario Addison signed with the team. Hughes was intrigued.
"I gave him a call and he was talking scheme," Hughes said. "I'm a big football guy. I love to hear the scheme and as far as what he was saying about 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 kid's life 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."
Hughes is having fun whether he's on the field working or watching from the sidelines of OTA practices. He seems to fit right in, joking and chatting with the likes of younger players like Roy Lopez and Jon Greenard. Hughes and Addison bring over two decades of NFL playing experience, both in their 12th seasons. Hughes wants to share his knowledge and leadership with the unit.
"Bring that sharp mentality to this team," Hughes said. "We have got a very young defensive line, so myself as well as Mario Addison, we try to emphasize having that alpha-male mentality up front. We dictate what the offense is going to do, not really settling for just being in our gaps. We want to be able to go out there and make plays, be around the ball, causing turnovers. We understand the importance of the ball. Coach Smith talks about it every day during team meetings, so for us just being that game-changer, being that force on the field, I feel like that's something my game has been about my whole 12 years throughout the league. So just trying to show those guys that we can be a difference-maker on every down, really. If the offense is out there and we have four guys on the field, let's just go out there and let's hunt."
In his career, Hughes has logged 58.0 sacks, 129 quarterback hits, one interception, 20 passes defensed, 16 forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and scored two defensive touchdowns in 184 games with 134 starts. His biggest lessons to his position group are about opposing teams and their abilities to scout players. Defensive linemen need to constantly change and evolve, improve their pre-snap reads and take information from coaches and data to incorporate into their game and play fast, according to Hughes.
"I remember when he came out of college at TCU, and he's played at a high level," Head Coach Lovie Smith said. "To play at a high level, you have to take care of your body. You have to be a pro. These are all voluntary days and he's out here leading. 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."
The Texans wrap up OTA practices on June 9 and will hold a mandatory veteran minicamp June 14-16 at the Houston Methodist Training Center.