Stamps' Charleston Hughes hunts sack title
By IAN BUSBY, QMI Agency
|BC Lions QB Travis Lulay is tackled by Calgary Stampeder's Charleston Hughes during their CFL football game in Vancouver, British Columbia, on July 8, 2011. (REUTERS)
DeVone Claybrooks has lined up next to both Charleston Hughes and Keron Williams, so he knows the differences between the CFL’s top two sackmasters.
The main similarity, the Calgary Stampeders defensive line coach contests, is how both are strangely underrated.
Maybe the duel for the sack title will change all that, and Friday’s matchup between the Stamps and B.C. Lions at McMahon Stadium will be a chance for both players to grab the spotlight.
Either Williams (11) or Hughes (10) will take home the league’s sack crown this season, and it would be a first for both.
Obviously, Claybrooks is rooting for his guy, but he knows it won’t be easy for Hughes to chase down Williams, who was Claybrooks’ teammate a few years ago with the Montreal Alouettes.
“Keron has always had success,” Claybrooks said. “He had nine sacks in Montreal at the inside position. Now, he’s getting the recognition for what he deserves — his just due.
“Charleston is having a breakout year because he’s worked on the things we wanted him to work on. He’s been much better.
“Even if you block Keron, he’s going to keep going so you need to make sure you finish the play. Charleston is a great effort guy, too, but he’s smart. He makes plays off reading tendencies and formations. All in all, they are similar players and are both very good.”
When Hughes arrived in Calgary during the 2008 training camp, it was just after the Stamps cut Williams loose. With a new defensive coaching staff, the team severed most of their ties to the former regime, and Williams found a job in Montreal where he blossomed into a consistent performer.
Over the past few seasons, Hughes has struggled to gain notoriety for himself, even though he was a force at times. In Chris Jones’ defence that was run from 2008 through to last season, sacks were never a priority.
So this season under Rick Campbell, Hughes has picked up numbers, as well as performing his role.
Still, with a career-high reached already, the 28-year-old doesn’t feel like he’s being appreciated yet around the league.
“I don’t think so. It’s still not there yet,” Hughes said. “Based on last year to this year, it’s probably going to take a Cameron Wake-type year. Maybe a 20-sack year. Maybe four sacks in one game. Something amazing.”
The CFL defensive player of the year award is completely up for grabs this season, and Hughes constantly makes a case for it.
Take for instance a series Saturday against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Hughes read a handoff to Chris Williams and stuffed the receiver for a loss. On the next play, he sacked Henry Burris and the Ticats were forced into a long field goal that was missed.
“Those were good plays,” Hughes said. “I didn’t know they were back to back until somebody actually told me. I forget as soon as it happens. I move on to the next play. I try to make a play every down.”
Hughes may have the upper-hand in the title chase. Instead of Travis Lulay on Friday, he’s chasing down backup Lions QB Mike Reilly.
Lulay has proven to be the most elusive pivot in the CFL this season, and Reilly is making just his second start in his place.
Williams might actually take a seat for the season finale, too.
The Stamps can’t change their place in the standings, so some individual races are fun to watch.
“It would be more of a gratification thing for him and to prove what we already knew,” Claybrooks said. “He’s one of the best defensive ends in the league and one of the best defensive players in the league. It’s validation for something I already knew and something he already knew.”
On Twitter: @SUNIanBusby