JACKSONVILLE – Dawuane Smoot is smiling these days.
That doesn't mean the third-year defensive end is satisfied with his progress in recent months, but it does mean he likes what he's seeing.
"I definitely see a difference," Smoot said.
Smoot's not alone.
"He's really changed," Head Coach Doug Marrone said of Smoot as the Jaguars (0-3 in the 2019 preseason) prepared to play the Atlanta Falcons (0-4) in the 2019 preseason finale at TIAA Bank Field Thursday at 7 p.m. "I will tell you that he's come a long way."
Those are welcome words for Smoot considering his first two NFL seasons.
Smoot, a third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, played extensively as rookie as a backup strong-side end behind All-Pro Calais Campbell. But he missed much of training camp and preseason in 2018, then spent the first eight games of the regular season inactive.
He reiterated this week that the time inactive last season was frustrating.
"I definitely felt like I had a big chip on my shoulder last year after those eight games," Smoot said. "I felt like I should have been playing. I just took it as a chip on my shoulder and it brought it up out of me more than anything."
Smoot said a couple of offseason happenings have been key to his '19 turnaround. One was the birth of his son, Ahmir, in April.
"It gave me a whole different motivation," he said.
Another was work Jiu Jitsu training and hand work done at Combatives Unlimited in Jacksonville with trainer Juan Roberto Perez this past offseason. Smoot said he focused heavy during that time on hand training, which improved not only reaction speed but the oft-overlooked hand fundamentals and techniques that are crucial for a pass rusher.
"I definitely feel like there's a difference in my body and my mind," Smoot said. "It's speed and technique. The training that I did … there's a lot of stick work, a lot of precision work with mitts. It's making sure you're accurate and powerful with your hands."
The difference has been evident in training camp and preseason. Smoot has shown quickness to the ball during extensive preseason action, registering seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and a tackle for a loss. He also has drawn praise consistently from coaches.
"I think he's playing well," Marrone said. "I think we're going to get some really good snaps out of him. I think we're going to get productivity. I think he has worked extremely hard. He has been under the radar because he's a guy that has been here for a while. He helps us on defense, especially adding depth to the defensive line and he helps us on special teams, too.
"I'm excited to see where he is. He has worked really hard. He's a guy that has been through a lot, probably a lot more than what most people have read about because he hasn't been a starter, but he has worked his butt off. I'm happy where he is. He has done a nice job. He really has."
And while his first two seasons were difficult and frustrating, Smoot said the end result is that he feels good about what lies ahead.
"There were a lot of ups and downs," Smoot said. "I felt like I wasn't as consistent as I would have liked to be. At the end of the day, I really just believed in myself and I just put everything out there. I feel like I'm definitely better for going through it – from going through scout team, from going through not playing for eight games. It's been trying mentally, and I feel like I definitely overcame it."
Also around the Jaguars:
*A player to watch in Thursday's preseason finale: backup quarterback Gardner Minshew. The rookie sixth-round selection has completed 43 of 70 passes for 389 yards in the preseason. After struggling in a preseason-opening loss at Baltimore, Minshew has thrown for 353 yards in the last two weeks. "We'd really like him to show us more in the game," Marrone said. "There have been times where you sit back and you feel good with the progression and you say, 'We feel comfortable; he's coming along.' Then you have a game and it's kind of like a setback: 'What happened. That's not what we saw during the week.' We want to see him do well. We're going to play him. I can tell you that."