By Kevin Acee , UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER Thursday, August 5, 2010 at 9:23 p.m. The first time Brandon Hughes went in the weight room after going on injured reserve last summer, the workout was so difficult he jokes now he didn’t know if he’d ever set foot in there again. Almost a year later, pushing through the pain and exhaustion appears to have paid off for the cornerback. “It was good for me,” said Hughes, who tore his MCL in last year’s third preseason game. “This year I can honestly say I put in the work to be ready for this moment now.” Hughes is like a different player than the skinny, overwhelmed kid who arrived here as the Chargers’ fifth-round draft pick in 2009. “I took it as an opportunity for me to work on things I needed to work on as far as my strength and footwork,” Hughes said. “... I needed it. I wasn’t quite where I needed to be last year when I came into camp, and it showed. I wasn’t quite ready for the level of play.” He is almost 10 pounds heavier and appears faster than he showed last camp. He used offseason film study and practice to continue his adjustment from the strict man defense he played at Oregon State. Playing with the second team Thursday, Hughes stepped up for an interception that halted a drive in a two-minute drill, continuing what has been a good camp. Fellow corners Dante Hughes and Nathan Vasher have been outstanding the past week as well, and the Chargers may keep only one of the three.