Camp Countdown: Will Jerry Hughes make the Pro Bowl?

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Camp Countdown presented by M&T Bank will examine some of the more pressing issues facing the team on the field as they make their final preparations for the regular season. We also focus on a few different areas that impact the team off the field. We'll address these subjects one at a time until training camp begins. Here now is the latest daily installment as we carefully probe for some of the answers the Buffalo Bills have to come up with between July 30 and the Sept. 13 opener at Ralph Wilson Stadium against Indianapolis.

"This just in—I am really happy we signed Jerry Hughes."

That was the news flash delivered by Head Coach Rex Ryan back in April, after an offseason workout by the Bills. Hughes was dominant in the workout, blowing by offensive linemen en route to the quarterback. And Ryan had to take action to get some offensive plays off the ground.

"It's rare that you have to pull a guy from practice because he's ruining your practice," Ryan said. "But I had to pull him today. If we were keeping track he might have had five-six sacks. It's one of those deals, it's like OK, let's pull him out. Let's get a pass off or something like that. He really did have that kind of day today."

Hughes has had more than a few days like that over the last two seasons, after arriving in Buffalo in a trade with the Colts. He's had 10-sacks in each of his years in Buffalo. Only six other NFL players have more than his twenty total sacks in the last two years. His signature play came against the Browns in 2014, when he forced a fumble, recovered it, and ran it back 18 yards for a touchdown.

And yet, Jerry Hughes has yet to make the Pro Bowl.

He's been overshadowed by the top pass rushers in the game, most of whom play in the AFC. J.J. Watt, Cameron Wake, DeMarcus Ware, and teammate Mario Williams have been recognized with Pro Bowl honors over the last two years. But not Hughes.

As far as Hughes is concerned, he's still getting better. And he seems unfazed by the lack of Pro Bowl attention so far.

"Yeah I just feel like I'm only scratching the surface,' he says. "The first two years here are the most football I've played in the NFL. So by me getting to understand the game more and really understand what I can do out there on the field, now I'm just trying to do it all. I feel like I can so I'm just going to put myself out there and do it."

The April 2013 trade for Hughes already ranks as one of the best trades in recent Bills history. And the multi-year, big money deal the team invested in the pass rush specialist this past March cements his status as an anchor in Buffalo's standout defensive front.

Hughes is earning recognition around the league. The NFL Network put him at 63 on its' list of the Top 100 players in the NFL. He usually lines up on the right edge of Buffalo's defense, meaning he's usually up against the opponents top pass protector. That was the case against the Browns in the big touchdown play, when he drew a holding call on Cleveland's Joe Thomas before forcing a fumble and scooping it up. Eventually, Pro Bowl voters, on the field and off, will take notice of Hughes penchant for big plays.

Listed at 6-2, 254 pounds, Hughes has the quickness to beat pass rushers around the edge. But he also has the strength to overpower them. And the 2015 Bills are already excited about the role he could play in Rex Ryan's pressure defense.

"You can put him anywhere," Ryan says. "He plays bigger than his frame. He's like 255 or something but he plays much bigger. He plays an end, plays outside backer. But he's definitely a physical player. He's a good athlete. Your great pass rushers have a feel for it, when do go inside, when to set up guys and all that—and he has it. He's kind of like a pitcher, a starting pitcher, with about four or five pitches. He's one of those nightmares to go up against."

Bills opponents may stay up late at night worrying about the entire Buffalo defensive front. The Bills have 111 sacks the last two years, more than any other team in the NFL. With Ryan and Defensive Coordinator Dennis Thurman calling the shots, the pass rush pressure will probably be dialed up even higher.

Hughes is already excited about that.

"Oh wow. The sky is the limit," he says. "You know Rex's rapport and the defensive guru that he is. For us to get out here and get into a playbook like that it's going to be a lot of fun."

Hughes on one side, Mario Williams on the other. Blitzes from linebackers and the nickel corners, like Nickell Robey. It all a part of the defensive package Buffalo is ready to throw at opponents this year.

"Everything is easier not just for myself, but for everybody," says Mario Williams. "It's a plus. Everybody across the board can make things happen and having him (Hughes) is a plus for everybody and not just up front or across from me or next to me or however we may line up, but for our backfield as well."

Put enough of those plusses together, and Jerry Hughes may find himself in Hawaii January 31 for the Pro Bowl.

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