Please excuse Tyson Alualu, but he's taking a break, both mentally and physically, for the first time in 16 months. It's a deserving break for a player who arrived in Jacksonville from across the country with high expectations and plenty of skepticism, and lived up to the billing of a top draft pick.
The Jaguars defensive tackle has been going strong since beginning his senior season at the University of California. He never missed a game in four seasons for the Golden Bears and then immediately began preparations for his NFL career last January, first at the Senior Bowl, and then with extensive training in Arizona.
Of course, all the work paid off when the Jaguars selected him with the 10thoverall pick in the NFL draft. But getting drafted put him right back to work with mini-camp, film sessions, offseason conditioning and then a 16-game rookie season.
"It feels good to finally have a break," Alualu told jaguars.com "I'm just resting up my body and getting ready for next year. The veterans say the second year is always a lot better so I'm looking forward to that."
In the interest of full disclosure, Alualu is not completely relaxing. His wife, Desire, gave birth to the couple's third child, son Tydes, in early January. So Alualu is playing the role of Mr. Mom for the newborn along with son Tyree and daughter Dereon.
"Running a lot of errands," he said.
The pick of Alualu by the Jaguars was not a popular pick by some locally or nationally considering Florida quarterback Tim Tebow was still on the board. But Jaguars general manager Gene Smith was steadfast in his plan of rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines.
The work has paid off with the addition of three starters in the trenches with 2009 picks – Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, and Terrance Knighton – and Alualu and third-round pick D'Anthony Smith in 2010. Smith, a third-round pick, missed the entire season after suffering an Achilles injury in training camp. All the players mentioned above are expected to play a major role in the future of the franchise.
Anyone who has been around Alualu knows he doesn't worry much about what is being written or said.
"I don't let anything negative said about me bring me down," he said. "I think all the negative talk just motivates me to play better and I guess you can say it put a chip on my shoulder heading into camp. I only deal with the things I can control myself."
It didn't take long for Alualu to win over any skeptics, especially when it came to his personality.
At his first training camp, Alualu stayed after practice well after his teammates were gone to sign every autograph and take pictures with fans, and very quickly he became a favorite among Jaguars fans. It was common to see fans putting leis around his neck after a Jaguars practice.
All of this before he ever played a snap.
"The kids were there for me and the team and just to see smiles on their faces makes me feel better," Alualu said. "That is the attitude I had coming here. I came into a great place and wouldn't want to be anywhere else. The fans welcomed me with open arms and I had to do the same for them."
Alualu wasted little time giving fans a glimpse of the future. On the first play of his first preseason game, he combined with Aaron Kampman for a sack of Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne. It was easy to see the motor that players and coaches had raved about in training camp.
There was no competition for a starting job. Alualu was penciled in immediately to play alongside Knighton. The two have forged a strong friendship that began with a text from Knighton following the draft.
"He filled me in on what to expect and what the organization is expecting of us," Alualu said. "He was my biggest help in my transition to the NFL. He threw me under his wing as far as knowing what to expect in terms of playing time and what to expect on the field."
Both players are the only defensive linemen to start all 16 games as a rookie in franchise history, and Knighton has yet to miss a game in two seasons. The duo is expected to solidify a defensive line that was once a strong suit with former Pro Bowl tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud.
The expectations don't go unnoticed.
"That is what Pot Roast told me," Alualu said of Knighton. "He said we are going to set the tone for the defense up front and if we dominate then the defense will do well. That is the type of mindset we have.
"He had a breakout year this past season and I'm hoping for the same next year, not just for me but the whole defensive line."
Alualu's rookie season was far from an easy one. The transition was tough at times for several of reasons. He was expected to deliver immediate results in a defensive scheme he had never played before. He was used to playing a 3-4 set where his job was to read blockers and allow the linebackers to make the plays.
It was quite the opposite for the Jaguars in a 4-3 scheme and he admits it was a struggle all the way until the end.
"Here I just have to get upfield and cause havoc in the backfield," he said. "I think I adjusted well due to the people around me helping me, my teammates and coaches. It got progressively better but I'm excited because having this experience has helped me grow as a player. I love learning and playing this defense because it's less thinking and more causing havoc."
Perhaps Alualu's most difficult obstacle was one many players face each year; injuries. He was hampered by injuries throughout training camp and really never stayed completely healthy the entire season. The frustrating part was not really the injuries but missing time on the field.
He sat out occasional practices, something he never did in college. He said he probably missed only four practices in four seasons. It was different in the NFL, something called protecting your investment.
"I wasn't really used to dealing with injuries," he said. "I have played with the normal bumps and bruises but mentally it got to me.
"They told me here that I needed to rest and it wasn't just the coaches but the players. It's a different outlook in the NFL. I was used to always being in that struggle with the team at practice in college because I was always out there. It was tough here missing practice and not being out there with my team."
He missed some practices but answered the call for every regular season game. Alualu averaged about 50 snaps a game and that number could go down slightly in 2011 with a more balanced defensive tackle rotation.
Alualu, Knighton and Leger Douzable were pretty much the rotation this past season.
"I can't wait until we have that rotation," Alualu said. "I played with D'Anthony at the Senior Bowl and I know what kind of player he is. Leger did a great job for us and was a big help for me. He's one of the veterans I learned a lot from as far as how to prepare myself."
Alualu finished his rookie season with 3.5 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 20 quarterback pressures. His performance put him on the majority of all-rookie teams. Only one rookie tackle had a better year statistically, second overall pick Ndamukong Suh of the Lions. Suh's 10 sacks led all rookies and earned Alualu's vote for rookie of the year.
"He did a great job and deserves it," Alualu said. "He made the Pro Bowl and I want to get there someday. He definitely represented our rookie class."
Alualu has made a couple visits to EverBank Field since the season ended to meet with defensive line coach Joe Cullen. He is focusing this offseason on improving the mental part of his game, just learning more about the game and what offenses are trying to do to attack him.
He has spent time watching film of other NFL players that play in a similar defensive scheme, such as Oakland's Richard Seymour.
"He is great for me to watch and I'm not saying we play the same," he said. "He also plays the three technique and he causes havoc in the backfield. I like to watch a lot of tackles to see the success they are having and the different tools they are using that will help me become a better player."
Alualu will begin his full offseason conditioning shortly but he has an appointment he has to make first.
With Tydes just over a month old, the family boarded a plane for Honolulu this morning to visit his family and allow them to see the newest addition for the first time.
"I used to get homesick all the time my first two years of college but now having my family here in Jacksonville this is our new home," Alualu said. "Hawaii is a place that we can go back to where our family lives. As long as I have my family here in Jacksonville I will be fine. My family loves it so I can't complain."