JACKSONVILLE – In 2018 offseason jaguars.com series featuring 11 former players talking about 11 current players, former Jaguars linebacker Kevin Hardy talks with senior writer John Oehser about the Jaguars' '17 success, the team's current linebackers and the team as it moves forward …
Question: You live in Jacksonville and attend Jaguars games regularly. What were your impressions of last season?
Answer: It was really cool to see the team have fun and win games and play with a lot of emotion. I'm a former player, but I've been in the Jacksonville community for over 20 years now – and you really get a sense for what the Jags mean to the city and the community. Everywhere I went last year it seemed like people were talking about the Jags and the season they were having. It brought a buzz back to the city, and I really got a chance to appreciate the things that we did back in the late 1990s when we had the success we had. I could appreciate the energy we brought because I felt it from the other side. It really was exciting. I was excited talking about it.
Q: It sounds as if it really brought back memories …
A: You kind of take it for granted in a way when you're playing. You think, "This is how it's supposed to be." One of my most vivid memories in 1996 was after we beat Denver (in the AFC Divisional Playoff) and [then-defensive end] Jeff Lageman grabbing me by the collar and saying, "Hey, rookie … take this in … appreciate this … it doesn't happen very often." All I was doing was going out and playing football. It didn't seem like that big of a deal, you know. We beat Denver and it was big, but it was another win even though everybody was excited. We went to the playoffs the next three years, but after that I never went back to the playoffs the rest of my career. As I reflect back, that's why the moment meant so much: at the time, I didn't understand, but now you look back and understand how hard it is to get to that moment. When you're young, you don't realize. As you progress and get older, you understand what it is and how special it is.
Q:Tell me your thoughts on some of the Jaguars' current players. Who stands out on defense and what do you think of the linebackers?
A: I thought in years past the team lacked leadership. I'm not disrespecting anybody, but it felt like it lacked an on-field presence of a leader like a Jeff Lageman, that kind of presence. I thought that's what [defensive end] Calais Campbell brought this year – some really solid veteran leadership that got guys going in the right direction. I look at how [linebackers] Telvin Smith and Myles Jack played, and there was a lot of emotion. Telvin Smith is a high-motor, energy guy and very fun to watch. He can create his own energy, but he also feeds off the energy of other people. Looking at him make the plays he was making, he really sparked the defense at times. When I look at Myles Jack I think he's still feeling his way, but I thought this year he started to feel his way a little more. He had some huge plays in the playoffs and had some displays of emotion that I think helped the team feed off him. I think those guys are high emotion guys when they get going. I think they really spark the defense.
Q:Referencing Myles Jack, any comparisons between you and him?
A: I was the type of player who was able to have success off athleticism, athletic ability and running around making plays. I do see that in him. I see that athleticism. I think he's running around with some raw talent, and at times I see some mistakes that are the type of mistakes where you learn as a veteran as you go on. That's a lot like myself in the beginning. It takes a while to adapt to the NFL game. I played next to a guy named Eddie Robinson, who was a tremendously smart football player. I was asking him questions on every play: "What do we got? What do we do?" I think I see some of that in Myles, and once he really understands the pro game and the style the sky's the limit for him.
Q: What's life like now for Kevin Hardy?
A: I had two nightclubs in Miami (Dream and Ivy). I was trying to negotiate the lease; the landlord just wanted too much. I decided to shut those down and walk away from them. I was in the nightclub business longer than I was in the NFL. It's a tough business and I got lucky because I had some solid people working for me. Now I'm taking time to relax and coaching with [former Jaguars quarterback] Mark [Brunell] over at Episcopal High School. My oldest son is in tenth grade. That's all I'm doing. I'm coaching the boys and getting them going.
Q:Where do you see the Jaguars going from here? What's the outlook?
A: I'm excited. For the team to really take the next step, [quarterback] Blake [Bortles] must continue to develop. He did enough last year and it seems the defense put us in position to win games. For us to move forward, he has to play like he did in the Pittsburgh playoff game where we're able to move the ball, he takes what the defense gives him, not turn the ball over and move the team down the field. The defense is going to have to continue to play at the level it played toward the end of the year last year. I'm looking at it from the outside looking in, but we (the 1990s Jaguars) were a tightknit group and I'm starting to see that from these guys – along the defensive line. That's fun to see. You see them together on Instagram and on Facebook. It shows it's a unit. They're becoming tightknit and I think what that does is it makes guys comfortable; it makes them competitive. It makes them want to play hard for one another and want to win for one another. I hope they continue to do that. You hope the nucleus passes that attitude along to other guys, but as a whole – the whole franchise, the energy – all of that plays into a successful program moving forward. It's exciting for the fans.