With the Buffalo Bills looking to recover from a season that saw a franchise-low number of sacks, the hope is that Rex Ryan will use his scheme and an infusion of defenders to help return things to the levels of success seen in 2013 and 2014, when the team was challenging its franchise records on the other end of the table. One of those changes; seeing Jerry Hughes, the team's top pass rusher, converting to an outside linebacker.
Hughes played defensive end in Gary Patterson's 4-2-5 scheme at TCU, mainly shaded on the offensive tackle's outside shoulder. He has had a career with some excellent highs and some disappointing lows. Playing as a defensive end in the Indianapolis Colts' Tampa 2, he was so disappointing he rarely saw the field. In Chuck Pagano's 3-4 scheme, he started showing potential, with four sacks in sixteen games before becoming expendable. He was traded to Buffalo and broke out with 10 sacks in Mike Pettine's hybrid defense and had 10 more the following year playing as a "wide-9" defensive end under Jim Schwartz. When the entire defense took a step back in Ryan's first year, so did Hughes' statistics, as he only came away with five sacks last season.
Ryan has since pledged to implement his hybrid 3-4 defense next year with no half-measures, which would assign Hughes some additional responsibilities. Yes, that means he'll be dropping into coverage, among other things. For what it's worth, Hughes is excited about the change.
"It's just going to be a lot more fun at the outside linebacker position now, I would say," Hughes told BuffaloBills.com. "I mean, I'm really just not that traditional down-in, down-out defensive end. I'll be standing up more so just understanding the depths and volumes that it goes into playing a linebacker, I mean it opens up the game for you a lot. You can have a lot more fun I'll say when you're out in coverage, when you're out coming off the edge, really just playing with that look to kind of just mess with offenses' heads."
With the departure of Mario Williams, Hughes shoulders the responsibility of being the lead pass rusher for the team. Last year he struggled to find enough openings to hit the quarterback, but hopefully he'll find his chances by moving around the field in 2016.