With most pre-training camp discussions focusing on the Buffalo Bills' 2013 starting lineup, there are several backups that should see significant playing time this season. Here at Buffalo Rumblings, we've decided to take a look at some of those players and determine which ones could be expected to take on a prominent role for the Bills.
The Bills traded middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard to the Indianapolis Colts this spring in exchange for outside linebacker Jerry Hughes. With defensive coordinator Mike Pettine putting an emphasis on versatility, Hughes should be a reserve linebacker that will be expected to see significant time on the field.
Former general manager Buddy Nix had this to say regarding Hughes, and how he fits into the Bills' new-look defense:
"He did that at first with the Colts (playing defensive end) and then when they went to the 3-4 he played a little of both, but he played behind Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. So his playing time was limited and we think this will give him an opportunity to do what he does best."
"We think he can fit at the rush end and at SAM linebacker," said Nix. "We think he can swing two positions there and then be a rusher in sub-packages.
Hughes is a former first-round draft pick, selected with the No. 31 overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft after being an extremely productive defensive end at Texas Christian University. Aside from playing time issues stuck behind two star pass rushers, the 25-year old also endured the struggle of learning a new position when Indianapolis transitioned from the Tampa 2 defense to a 3-4 scheme under head coach Chuck Pagano.
Despite his lack of playing time, things finally seemed to click for Hughes as a pass rushing outside linebacker last season, registering 32 tackles (seven of which came for a loss) and four sacks while receiving only 628 snaps.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Hughes generated 28 quarterback pressures as well, ranking No. 11 among all qualifying 3-4 outside linebackers. Additionally, his one lone missed tackle ranked him as the site's sixth-most efficient tackler in the NFL at his position. Hughes was PFF's fifth-most undervalued player on the Colts' roster last year, as they determined his play should've produced at the level of a linebacker making roughly $4 million per year, compared to his $1.7 million current deal.
While newly-acquired free agent Manny Lawson is expected to take on the starting strong-side linebacker position in the Bills' defense, Hughes' versatility at both defensive end and outside linebacker should allow him to see a strong portion of playing time this upcoming season.