JACKSONVILLE – Mike Brewster's ready. Make no mistake about that.
And yes, he said this week, he was bothered by the "Alex Mack thing." He said, too, he knows he's guaranteed nothing, just as he knows he must keep getting healthy, and then earn his opportunity.
Brewster, the Jaguars' third-year veteran center, said he knows all of that's true, but what he's thinking about is the last part, the opportunity part, and how it applies to this season.
"In my mind, it's do or die," Brewster said.
Still, if Brewster sees this season as make-or-break, he sees more reason for optimism than otherwise, and a lot more chance of "make" than "break."
"There's no doubt in my mind I'll get it done," Brewster said. "There's no doubt in my mind as far as, 'Can I do this?' It's exciting. I think a lot of people will be surprised when they get a chance to see me play full-time center."
His primary goal: to make sure people get that chance.
Brewster, who originally joined the Jaguars as an undrafted free agent following the 2012 NFL Draft, has played sparingly in two NFL seasons, practicing at times at his natural position of center but playing almost exclusively in games at guard.
That could change this season.
With veteran center Brad Meester having retired following last season, Brewster has a very real chance to earn the starting center position. General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley typically have mentioned Brewster first when discussing the position, with Bradley saying at the NFL Annual Meeting in late March the team felt confident when going through its end-of-season evaluations that Brewster "could hold the fort down" at the position.
Shortly after that, Brewster's offseason changed somewhat.
That was when the Jaguars began trying to sign Mack, a two-time Pro Bowl selection with the Cleveland Browns widely considered one of the NFL's best centers. Mack, then a transition-tagged free agent, signed an offer sheet with the Jaguars only to have the Browns match and retain him.
Did Brewster love the Jaguars pursing Mack? Hardly, but he did call it very definitely a perspective-changing moment.
"It was a good wake-up call for me to say, 'Look, I've got to earn this,'" Brewster said. "It was a good reinforcer to say, 'Look, if you're going to get this opportunity, just do what you need to do.' In the past, I've always taken advantage of opportunities."
Brewster said Bradley approached him last week at the start of the team's voluntary offseason program to discuss the situation.
"He pulled me in his office, and we just talked," Brewster said. "He didn't have to do that. Coaches don't have to talk to players about the business side of things. That went a long way. That was cool, because it would have been a major letdown, so I really appreciated it."
Even with the team not signing Mack, Brewster said he knows nothing is guaranteed. There will be competition at the center position, and the NFL Draft hasn't taken place yet. Brewster said when Bradley spoke to him last week he emphasized the opportunity at hand, the need to do everything – the little things – take advantage of that.
Brewster, an All-America center at Ohio State, said he is confident he can do just that, and that he will benefit from returning to his collegiate position. While he practiced at center his first two seasons, his work there has been limited to the first half of a preseason game against Miami this past season. Mostly, he played the swing interior lineman role, practicing at center and playing guard when needed.
"It's not something where you can just be playing center and just hop over to guard and be comfortable," Brewster said. "They're two completely different things. At center, you're more in a phone booth. I like to be up close. I like to take advantage of my quickness.
"Center is what I've been working on for years. It's what I've been waiting to get back to."
An issue is how quickly he will do so. He missed the final two games last season with a fractured left ankle, and said this week he essentially is four months into a sixth-month recovery process. He said he has been cleared to practice "to an extent," but will be limited as the offseason program begins.
"Obviously, it's not ideal, but I think I turned it into a positive this offseason," said Brewster, adding that he is about 85 percent recovered.
Brewster said he did so by improving physically, adding 10 pounds without adding body fat, with most of the gain being strength and muscle. Whereas before he relied on instincts and athleticism, Brewster said he hoped the added weight will help his power. He also said the injury "gave me a certain sense of urgency," prompting him to stay in town during the offseason, working out with left tackle Luke Joeckel and tight end Clay Harbor, each of whom were also rehabilitating injuries.
The time is right for increased focus, he said, and it's the right time for an opportunity. He spent two years watching Meester, known for his veteran approach to a position where a veteran approach matters. Brewster said he learned from Meester's off-field approach, his study habits and his leadership. He's ready, he said, for a bigger role.
"That's something I've taken to heart," Brewster said.
Mostly, Brewster said, he's ready for his opportunity, and if his situation is indeed do-or-die or make-or-break, he said he's as ready as he has been in three NFL seasons.
"I'm going back to my prime position," Brewster said. "This is what I've been waiting for, to get back to this. Obviously, you have to capitalize and there's competition, but it's all good. It makes everybody play better. That's exciting for me."