BBD Editor: Dan Hope
Going undrafted out of Howard hasn’t shaken the confidence of Buffalo Bills rookie Keith Pough.
In an interview with Buffalo Bills Draft on Tuesday, Pough told me he has two goals for his rookie season: to earn a starting spot on the Bills’ defense and to win the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Both of these goals are certainly lofty for an undrafted rookie who will have to prove himself throughout training camp just to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Pough, however, said setting high goals have helped him make it as far as he has.
“Some might say they are lofty dreams, but I’ve always set lofty dreams for myself,” Pough said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t dream big. There’s a quote that says ‘if you’re dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.’ And dreams come true.”
Pough certainly had a lot of success chasing his dreams during his career at Howard. He was a four-year starter for the Bison, and set the all-time FCS record for career tackles for loss with 72.
Pough proved repeatedly that he has an ability to get into the backfield and make plays. He is a versatile playmaker who lined up everywhere from middle linebacker to defensive end at Howard. For a look at how Pough displayed that versatility and playmaking ability, check out the following video of Pough versus Rutgers from last season from Draft Breakdown‘s Jimmy O’Brien.
Pough’s collegiate success and versatility, however, were not enough for him to secure a draft selection. His collegiate success may not have held as much clout to NFL teams because it came at the FCS level.
Pough also noted that some critics have considered him to be undersized (consider me guilty as charged), but those doubts have not deterred his confidence.
“Everything that people look at as a negative, I see as a positive,” Pough said. “When I am one of the best defensive players in this league, it’s going to make my story that much greater because I didn’t go to a D-I powerhouse or I wasn’t drafted or I’m undersized, I’m too slow, I’m not big enough, I’m not tall enough.”
While Pough isn’t lacking confidence, he acknowledged that the transition to the NFL is challenging and a “humbling experience.” He said the most difficult part of the transition thus far has been adjusting to how quickly NFL players are expected to learn and process new information.
“The transition of being actually in the meetings of how information takes place and how soon and how fast you’re given information, how fast you’re expected to digest it,” Pough said. “It’s probably an hour, an hour and 30 minutes before practice. That’s probably the biggest difference, the biggest transition, probably the most difficult for myself.”
Pough’s versatility, nonetheless, should help him gain footing in the Bills’ new hybrid defensive scheme under new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. Pough could project as both an inside and outside linebacker in both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts, and could also work as a situational pass-rusher from the defensive end spot.
Pough considers Pettine to be a “mastermind” at putting players in the right position to make plays.
“I can say wholehearted and honestly that it’s fun and exciting just to be in that type of scheme,” Pough said. “One play I could be playing linebacker, the next play I could be at D-end.
“Wherever Coach Pettine and my position coach, (linebackers coach Jim O’Neil), feels comfortable and they think that I have the best opportunity to succeed at and to compete at a high level in this game and at this level, I’d be more than willing and happy to play,” Pough added.
He said working at defensive end has been the toughest transition for him thus far.
“I’ve never really played with my hand in the dirt, so learning certain techniques have been kind of difficult for me, a challenge, but I think it’s only going to make me better as a player,” Pough said.
Pough faces an uphill battle to achieve his goal of starting as an undrafted rookie, but this certainly isn’t the first time he has had to overcome obstacles to get on the field. He was forced to redshirt during his first year at Howard due to academic issues. He also had to bounce back from a torn MCL he suffered late in his redshirt freshman season.
Pough said overcoming those obstacles taught him to “embrace the struggle.”
“Ultimately it’s the struggle that makes you … it’s the struggle that fashioned me into the player I am today,” Pough said. “It is the same thing that I’m facing now in the league, from being undrafted to being undersized to having to fight every day, having to compete every day.”
Pough said he views his battle for a roster spot as a “win or perish” situation.
“You can fight like hell, scratch and claw every day and compete every day for an opportunity just to hold a roster spot,” Pough said. “Either I win, or I die. That’s the only way to look at it. There is no in between at this level. Especially as an undrafted rookie free agent, I don’t have the luxury of having a bad day of practice, I don’t have the luxury of loafing on a play, I don’t have the luxury of blowing an assignment. I’m going to make mistakes, but it’s also important for me not to make the same mistakes.”
Pough said he views his “passion and energy” as assets that will help him secure a roster spot. While Pough certainly aspires for a spot in the starting lineup, he said he wants to “play at the highest level” regardless of how much playing time he gets.
“Whatever the coach asks me to do within the scheme, I want to dominate that,” Pough said. “If I’m only in on two or three packages, I want to make sure that I make the best of those opportunities, that way I can create more opportunities for myself.”
As he looks forward to training camp, where he will report along with the rest of the team’s rookies on July 22, Pough said he learned from minicamps and organized team activities that he has to “maintain a balance.”
“You can never get too high, you can never get too low,” Pough said. “Never get too high of yourself because you’re never as good as you think it is, but it’s never as bad as it seems. So every day you just got to come with the mentality to get better.”
You can listen to my full interview with Pough below.