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Gunter: "Jacksonville's the best fit for me…"

JACKSONVILLE – Rodney Gunter is ready. Absolutely.

As the Jaguars' newest defensive linemen sees it, unprecedented circumstances around the nation and world don't change that.

"Despite all that's going on, I'm doing wonderful," said Gunter, who agreed to terms last week to sign with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent after five seasons with the Arizona Cardinals.

"I'm ready to start my new journey."

That journey will be based in Jacksonville because the Jaguars consider Gunter a player who can help where they perhaps need it most. The Jaguars, after ranking 27th in the NFL against the run last season, entered free agency seeking players to improve that area.

As Head Coach Doug Marrone saw it, Gunter – a versatile veteran who can play big end and defensive tackle – is such a player. Gunter (6-feet-5, 305 pounds), has played in 77 career games with 38 starts –with 126 tackles with 26 for loss and 11 sacks with two forced fumbles.

"We were looking around and all of a sudden, Rodney comes up and it's, 'Who is this guy?''' Marrone said last week. "We don't know that division that well. It's the NFC West and you don't really see a lot of cross tape of people like that during the year. We really like the skill set.

"We think he can play multiple positions for us, whether he can go down in a three(-technique defensive tackle) or play the big (strong-side) end."

As for why the Jaguars felt right, Gunter said the reason was simple.

"Jacksonville's the best fit for me, because you guys showed me more love than any other team," he told Monday.

Gunter's path to Northeast Florida began at Haines City High School in Florida, and it wasn't an easy path. He worked as a dishwasher and waiter to help his mother and two younger brothers with bills, work that kept him from playing football as a high school sophomore and junior. He played football as a senior because he wanted to leave high school "with a bang."

"I was fortunate to receive a scholarship to Delaware State," he said. "I played all four years and was blessed to get a chance to play football at the next level. I accomplished my dream. … I'm still in belief sometimes, but I'm here.

"My family's very excited for me – my friends and stuff. They're looking forward to coming and supporting me throughout the season and throughout my time here in Jacksonville.

"I'm excited. I'm ready to get started on the journey."

Gunter, originally a fourth-round selection in the 2015 NFL Draft, played all his first five seasons with Arizona. That included two seasons – 2015 and 2016 – as a teammate of defensive end Calais Campbell, who made three consecutive Pro Bowls with the Jaguars from 2017-2019 before recently being traded to the Baltimore Ravens.

"I was fortunate to spend my first two years with Calais Campbell," he said. "He's a great guy. I have tons of respect for him: good guy on the field, off the field. Coming in as a rookie, he taught me well. He was a mentor to me, a big brother to me – everything. I have so much respect for the guy."

Gunter on Monday said he – like most NFL players – is currently in unfamiliar circumstances. Free-agent visits and introductory press conferences – the NFL mid-March norm – have been canceled because of the coronavirus (COVID-19), and Gunter said he has had the same issues as most NFL players with conditioning and staying in shape.

"It's definitely changed a lot," Gunter said. "All the facilities I used to use are closed, so I've got my own in-home gym at home, working out. That's all. … Throughout this quarantine, I don't know the next step. I'm just going to take it one day at a time and try to stay in shape and take care of my body. That's the main thing."

Also unknown is when NFL teams will begin offseason programs. Whenever they do begin, and whenever Gunter takes his next step, he said is optimistic about what that journey will hold.

"I'm very excited to get to work," he said. "I know we're a young team and we're probably going into a rebuilding year. But we're still going to go out there and compete and play hard."

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