When John Hughes was drafted in the third round by the Browns, he was surprised. Surprised might be putting it mildly. His draft watch party with his family wasn’t even until the next day, when they thought he might hear his name called.
The Browns thought enough of the Cincinnati Bearcat that they pulled the trigger and picked him 87th overall.
Cleveland was looking to add depth to the defensive line that already included defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin and last year’s first round pick Phil Taylor. The pick was met with criticism, as many of the “draft experts” thought Hughes was a big reach with a third round pick. But when Taylor was injured in the off-season, expectations of Hughes shifted from depth player to probable starter- at least from the fan base.
Fast forward to yesterday, the last day of training camp. Hughes worked mostly with the second unit during practice. He started the first two preseason games, but has had to battle all camp long for the spot.
“I think it went great, especially being a rookie just being able to come out here and compete.” said Hughes of training camp. “Especially with the vets and learning the plays and the system. That’s the big thing learning the system, then coming out here and playing your best.”
Competing for a job in the NFL is a lot different than his camp days at the University of Cincinnati.
“It’s a lot less banging (in practice). The NFL is a lot bit more cerebral.”
Hughes finds himself competing for the starting job with fellow rookie Billy Winn, who was taken in the seventh round of the draft. Unlike the pick of Hughes in the third round, the Browns were praised for getting Winn late in the draft. There were concerns about the Boise State product’s work ethic, but those concerns certainly aren’t shared by the Browns who have loved Winn’s attitude and hard work in camp and the preseason.
In addition, the Browns recently claimed rookie DT Ronnie Cameron, whom the Bears waived. Cameron had a strong preseason game against the Packers, and could be in line for a spot on the team as well.
Hughes is excited about the competition, and the possibility for playing time in the regular season.
“(I’m) looking forward to the experience. Going into my first preseason game I was so nervous, my heart was pumping real hard but after the first play I realized everything was going to be good. I’m sure that’s how it will be for the season opener too.”
This week Hughes may not get the same nerves pregame that he had before that first preseason game in Detroit, but he will be excited to take the field against one opponent in particular.
“Michael Vick. He’s been in the league a while, and I used to play with him in Madden back in the day. I used him all the time running around playing as the Falcons.”
Vick is unlikely to play the rest of preseason due to a bruised ribcage, but is expected to be back for the opener against the Browns. But will Hughes be lining up against Vick on that first snap? With two preseason games to go it is anything but a sure thing. Winn has been getting a good percentage of the first team reps this week in practice.
That won’t discourage Hughes, who knows that all of the young defensive tackles will likely see plenty of time.
One thing that will encourage Hughes is finally getting to sleep in his own bed now that camp is over.
“I’ve been in a hotel this whole year because of the combine training, then after the combine we had OTAs then mini-camp and then camp. I got a place set up now in the area, so I’m looking forward to getting out on my own.”
No word on if the family will be meeting there for any watch parties, late or not.