Tracy Walker’s replacement wasn’t around for Rams’ Super Bowl run, still got a ring

Detroit Free Press

Juju Hughes, the Detroit Lions‘ likely replacement for Tracy Walker in the secondary, had a personal interest in the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl 56 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in February, though not even he knew how big it was at the time.

The Rams waived Hughes in early January, days before the start of the playoffs, and the Lions claimed him on waivers in a move that was not official until after the Super Bowl.

Hughes stayed in L.A. for the postseason, where he found himself in a weird bit of professional limbo.

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He wanted his friends and former team to experience the thrill of winning a championship; he signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2020 and appeared in 19 games with the team over two seasons. But he was looking forward to life with his new team and disappointed not to be in the playoffs himself.

“You definitely, the competitor in me wants to be out there, be with the guys,” Hughes said. “You put in however many months, offseason, training camp, grinding with guys for that moment, so you definitely want to be there and enjoy all of it. But like I said, no hard feelings. I was excited as hell for the guys, honestly, and that organization.”

Hughes watched the Super Bowl with friends from his home in L.A., and celebrated the Rams’ victory. He would not say if he attended the team’s Super Bowl party, but the game quickly drifted from his conscious as he started preparing for the 2022 season.

A couple months later, Hughes’ agent got a call from the Rams. The team was ordering Super Bowl rings and needed Hughes to get sized.

Hughes, who was in Detroit at the time, went to a jewelry store at The Somerset Collection. The thought he would get a ring had never crossed his mind, and he did not tell anyone at the store why he was there.

“I definitely take pride in that (they thought enough of me to get me a ring),” Hughes said. “Big ups to them, much respect to them. They had enough respect for me. I was there the whole season. I felt like they did the right thing and gave that to me. They didn’t have to, obviously. They didn’t have to, so just a lot of appreciation to that organization, (head coach Sean) McVay, (general manager) Les (Snead), everybody over there. They definitely took care of me.”

Now, the Lions are turning to Hughes to help their injury-depleted secondary.

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Walker tore his Achilles tendon in last week’s loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and with 2022 third-round pick Kerby Joseph not quite ready for a full-time defensive role and last year’s third-rounder, Ifeatu Melifonwu, making his way back from a hamstring injury, Hughes is expected to get the first start of his career Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

Already, Hughes has played more defensive snaps this season (82) than he did in his two years in L.A. (35). He finished the Lions’ Week 1 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles after Walker was ejected, and he played the final three quarters last week against the Vikings.

Hughes made eight tackles last week, but was out of position on Kirk Cousins’ game-winning touchdown pass to K.J. Osborn.

“I thought Juju was solid,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “He was solid. He can be better. But I thought for, man, not getting those reps and stepping in and doing some of the things he did, it was — that was good and that’s kind of what we know about Juju. He’ll go in there and he’ll be able to function and give you what he’s got.”

Hughes said he has not received his ring yet; it’s being sent to his home in California. But he considers himself “blessed” to have traveled the road he did to get to the Lions.

“It’s hard to miss out on something like that, once in a lifetime oportunity, but this can help me for years of my life right here, this opportunity,” he said. “Even when it happened, I was kind of bummed out about it, but then some people were in my ear, in my corner and stuff, I had to realize the opportunity I had in front of me. And even being here now, like that opportunity, I’m still here every day blessed with the opportunity.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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