September 1, 2013
Mississippi St. against #12 Oklahoma St. at NRG Field in Houston, Texas. It was supposed to be a showcase for MSU as a program and a chance to get their 2013 season started the right way. By the end of the game, the Bulldogs were trounced, 21-3.
And safety Jay Hughes had torn his Achilles. He would miss the entire season.
August 30, 2014, 364 days after the injury
Hughes returned a blocked field goal 68 yards for a touchdown and picked off a late 1st half pass in a 49-0 blowout over Southern Mississippi.
This time, the season opening victory did catapult the program. MSU would start 9-0 reaching the #1 spot in the nation before losing three of their last four games. For Hughes though, the end of the season was a mark he was proud to meet.
May 2, 2015
Hughes worked to get back on the field and play for his dad, Mississippi St. Safeties Coach Tony Hughes. Now, he's got an NFL career on his hands.
The Rams don't employ a system that puts as huge a differentiation between the two safety roles as other teams, so there's not a big free safety/strong safety discrepancy to worry about.
So in the safety mix, you've got a top trio of T.J. McDonald, Rodney McLeod and Mark Barron. Beyond those three, the returning duo of Cody Davis and Maurice Alexander have their spots held for them, though I'm not sure they're locked in. People throw Lamarcus Joyner's name around, but I expect him to remain in the cornerback rotation.
That leaves the two incoming UDFAs: Hughes and Jacob Hagen.
Last year, the Rams only kept four on the roster for week one, but that was ahead of the trade for Barron in late October after week 8. He's got the UDFA halo, so he won't have a ton of pressure on him. Bear in mind the Rams stashed two safeties on the practice squad last year in Christian Bryant and Matt Daniels.
Chances of Making Final Roster (4/10)
I'm bullish on Hughes. His intangibles are as high as you'll find, and he's really grown since he first got to Starkville and went from a running back to a cornerback to his eventual safety position. You know he'll work his tail off, and he'll have to ESPECIALLY on special teams to get in the mix. He's one of those legit candidates who could impress early, get through the first round of cuts and then do just enough to creep in.
And he's easily someone you can root for to do just that.