JACKSONVILLE – Austin Pasztor hears the same things a lot of people hear.
He's not buying in, though. Not yet. Because while people very influential and knowledgeable have said a lot of very complementary things about Pasztor lately, he knows NFL reality is that you're always competing.
He's fine with the competition part, because that pretty much has been his NFL life. So, if Jaguars General Manager Dave Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley have given every indication this offseason that Pasztor has a very real chance to start at right tackle next season, he figures that's great.
It's just not anything close to an end-all.
"It's a good starting point for what I want to get accomplished," Pasztor said recently.
Besides, he said, it's sure better than where he was last offseason.
"This time last year, I thought I was a guard," Pasztor said with a laugh.
How quickly things change.
Pasztor indeed was a guard this time last year. Originally signed by Minnesota as an undrafted free agent from Virginia in 2012, he spent 12 weeks on the Jaguars' practice squad before starting the final three games that season at left guard. He worked with the first team at right guard in 2013 organized team activities and minicamp with then-starter Uche Nwaneri out rehabilitating a knee injury.
Pasztor figured at the time he was working to be a backup swing guard, but he got tackle repetitions in OTAs and minicamps, and then got more work there in training camp. When the Jaguars traded tackle Eugene Monroe to the Baltimore Ravens after Week 4 last season, it was Pasztor who moved to right tackle when Luke Joeckel moved from right to left.
Pasztor said at first he wasn't sure how he'd feel at tackle. His stint at guard the previous season helped him anticipate the speed of an NFL regular-season game, but he said moving positions was an adjustment. A guard has a different perception of the depth of a quarterback's drop than a tackle, Pasztor said, and there's also a timing difference in pass protection, with a tackle needing to delay contact with a pass rusher longer than a guard.
He said in a sense the adjustment is still ongoing, but he said around his third start – at home against San Diego – he began to feel comfortable at the new position.
"It was one of those moments when you're playing and you feel like things are going right for you," he said. "When things are going that right for you, it makes you feel like, 'I belong here. This is what I'm supposed to be doing.'
"I feel more comfortable at tackle. I feel like I'm ready to progress as a player."
Pasztor, who recently signed a one-year tender that will keep him with the Jaguars through this season, started the final 12 games last season at right tackle, playing through a shoulder injury near the end of the season that he said hampered him at times. He is rehabilitating the shoulder now, and could be limited when the offseason program begins, but Caldwell and Bradley this offseason have talked about having found in Pasztor a right tackle who can start moving forward.
Still, it wasn't as if Pasztor knew beyond a doubt there was a starting NFL right tackle inside his 6-feet-7, 308-pound body. He played guard at Virginia because Monroe and Will Barker –who is currently with the Miami Dolphins – were the tackles when he arrived, and he finished his collegiate career still at guard.
Before last season, he hadn't played tackle extensively since high school.
"I hadn't played tackle at a high level," he said, adding with a laugh, "I had played tackle in high school, but I played quarterback and running back in high school, too."
Pasztor said while last season indeed was a significant adjustment, and while there were elements of the unknown, the structure within the Jaguars' organization helped – particularly the philosophy of Bradley. While Pasztor said Bradley and Caldwell being new last season meant proving himself to new decision-makers, he focused on Bradley's message of improving daily and little else.
"The biggest thing that helped my mindset was Gus giving us the message, 'Just get better,'" Pasztor said. "In my rookie year, I knew it was bad to think, 'Am I going to make the team? Do they think that guy's better than me?' That doesn't help you, but it's hard not to think that way. But last year, anytime my mind would go there I'd say, 'Don't worry about that. Just get yourself better.'
"Whatever your goal is, if you just focus on getting better, that's the best way to reach the goal. So that whole mindset really helped me."
He said that's a mindset that won't change this season no matter what he's hearing.
"I never know what to think," he said. "The draft hasn't happened, but I try not to worry too much about where I'll be on the depth chart when this whole thing gets started. That the approach I've always taken, that no matter where you are on depth chart, you need to work as hard as you can to do the best you can.
"It's always been a situation the last two years where I need to show what I can do to be on the team. Now it's, 'I need to show what I can do so I can be the guy and help the team.' It feels great, but there's no being satisfied. I still have to prove it. It's not like it's there and that's that. It's a work in progress, and there's a bunch of work to be done."