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View from the O-Zone: Thanks, Calais

Posted Nov 23, 2017

Oehser: If you’re a Jaguars fan, give thanks on Thanksgiving Day that former Arizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell is in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE – The timing feels fitting in a way.

It’s Thanksgiving Weekend, and Jaguars defensive end Calais Campbell plays his former team Sunday – and if Jaguars fans should be thankful for anything these days it’s that the big man with the big voice, big smile and even-bigger impact now plays for their team and no one else’s.

As for the whole former-team thing, the big man who has become a leader in a remarkably short time understands the storyline …

But he doesn’t love it.

“At the end of the day, I’m trying to make it just another game,” Campbell said as the AFC South-leading Jaguars (7-3) prepared to play the Arizona Cardinals (6-4) at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

Still …

If you’re a Jaguars fan, absolutely: give thanks Campbell is in Jacksonville. The big man’s impact is that big – and it’s hard to imagine this Jaguars season without him.

“He has an unbelievable pulse and presence,” Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “He’s a different dude in a very positive way.”

When Campbell plays his former team Sunday, 11.5 sacks will be on his 2017 resume. As impressive is the resume of the Jaguars’ defense: first in the NFL in yards allowed, passing yards allowed, sacks, points allowed and takeaways. That unit – indeed, the entire 2017 Jaguars team – has been shaped in every way, shape and form by Campbell’s big presence and big production.

“He’s a great dude,” wide receiver Marqise Lee, whose locker is next to Campbell’s in the Jaguars’ locker room, said. “Any chance that you’re down or you feel like you’re down he comes up to you and makes sure you’re up to par. He’s upbeat. There’s never a down day for Calais.”

He’s a leader on what still is mostly a young team – a big brother, a father figure and more.

“I look at him as a grandfather, but at the end of the day, he’s playing like he’s young,” Lee said. “He’s playing like he’s my age out there. That’s why we look up to him. People expect you to be old, and he still goes out there day in and day out and works his butt off and he produces within the game.”

Campbell, who played nine seasons with Arizona, is playing the Cardinals for the first time since signing with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March. Former Player-Versus Former Team stories are a mid-week NFL staple, but know this:

Campbell’s version isn’t about inflammatory quotes or bulletin boards. The mutual respect between Campbell and the Cardinals remains real. And yes, there will be emotions for Campbell Sunday. Not that he wanted to emphasize that this week. In fact, quite the opposite.

“Honestly, I get it’s a storyline – but for me, you have to make it just another storyline and make it about getting the W,” he said. “You have to live in the moment. Right now, we’re a really good team and trying to take that next step.”

That’s where Campbell’s story gets unique. The Jaguars are indeed good this season, and Campbell is critical to that turnaround – just as he was critical to the Cardinals’ success for nearly a decade. The NFL’s free-agency era is littered with big-name players who sign with new teams and never adjust.

Campbell not only adjusted, he did so immediately in a time in which Posluszny said the team was going through “an enormous change in culture” in the first offseason under Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone and Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin.

“He has helped build the culture of how we do things,” Posluszny said. “He’s an enormous reason why we’re here. He didn’t say, ‘I’m a leader. I’m here now.’ That wasn’t his approach. He wanted to have success as organization, team success. He did it with genuine humility, and wanted what was best for everyone around him and what’s best for the organization.

“If Calais tells me to do something, I’ll do it right away. He has that type of impact.”

It’s too simplistic to say Campbell arrived in town this offseason and breathed life into a struggling franchise, but it’s not too overstating it to say he has helped reshape the franchise’s identity.

“[When a team signs a free agent], everybody in the organization is going to be like, this guy has to come in and really do well,” Marrone said. “Calais to me has exceeded those [expectations. He has gone above and beyond.

“From what he’s done for the locker room … health-wise, he takes care of his body … most important, the production, he has had. He has been outstanding.”

So now, in his 10th NFL season, Campbell has a chance to be one of the rarest NFL feel-good stories: a franchise-defining player for not one city and franchise, but two.

So yeah … if you’re a Jaguars fan, absolutely: give thanks Campbell is in Jacksonville.

The big man’s impact is that big.

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