The Jaguars' ranks are dissolving around him, yet, Reggie Hayward seems to be inviolate to the rebuilding process.
"If you just play hard, it'll take care of itself," Hayward said during a break in his conditioning regimen at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium on Tuesday.
Once upon a time, Hayward was a big-money free agent. The Jaguars paid him a $10 million bonus to be a star, every-downs defensive end, and he rewarded that faith with a stellar 8.5-sack season in 2005. He was a young, ascending player in his prime and big things were expected.
Then, suddenly, all the expectations changed. Hayward's 2006 season ended in the season-opener when he sustained a ruptured Achilles. It's the type of injury that ruins careers and Hayward's was in jeopardy. He was a one-legged player in 2007, but he managed 3.5 sacks on guile and determination. Last year, he played in 16 games for the first time in his Jaguars career and found 4.5 sacks.
"This year will be a great indication of how many years I'll play. I'm progressing. Every year has been better than the year before," Hayward said of the post-Achilles portion of his career, to be in its ninth season this year.
He'll be in the final year of his contract with the Jaguars, which might make this a good time for the Jaguars to approach Hayward on re-structuring.
"Whatever they want to do, I'll listen," he said.
Cooperativeness has always been one of Hayward's hallmarks. In a year in which a lot of the bad chemistry that dogged the Jaguars last season is being cut out of the roster, Hayward does not appear to be a candidate for dismissal. He's a good guy and he's still a good enough player to keep around, it would seem.
"That means that whatever I'm doing, keep it up, not just on game day but in practice. They kept me because I made some plays, had a good attitude, worked hard and was a positive influence on young players," Hayward said.
With Paul Spicer gone, Hayward is the Jaguars' most veteran defensive end. He gives the Jaguars a player at left defensive end that can hold up against the run and give you a little rush on the quarterback at times. He still is an every-downs defensive end and that's what makes him valuable.
"My body's feeling great; my weight is down. I was in position last year to make so many plays but missed the opportunity; just a half a step too late. With the new strength and conditioning coach, I'm starting to get that half step back already," Hayward said.
"He's tearing the body down and building it back up. Instead of pounding weight until the heart explodes, he's tearing muscles down and building them back up so they'll be more functional. Are you strong in the right way? Is your form good? Are you using your entire body?" Hayward added of new strength coach Luke Richesson.
It is the Jaguars' other defensive end, second-year man Derrick Harvey, who is facing the greatest expectations. With Spicer gone, Harvey becomes an every-downs player at the premier right defensive end position. Much is expected of the player for whom the Jaguars traded up in last year's draft to select.
"He has more of an understanding of what's going on. The growing pains are still going to be there but they're going to be fewer. Your second year is always the hardest because you're not a surprise to opposing teams. It's just harder. He's going to have to work harder to get over that hump," Hayward said.
"If we come in with the attitude that we can win – most of this game is mental – (we're) capable of getting to the playoffs. I've seen teams that had all the big names not make the playoffs. Then you have a team with great chemistry and they're Cinderella," he added.
In this case, Cinderella might be a snake.
"It's like a snake shedding its skin," Hayward said of the roster purging the Jaguars are experiencing. "It eventually happens on every team; a changing of the guard and you get a fresher, younger team. You see a lot of people go that did everything they were asked to do, but you see the business part of the game, too."
Is Hayward immune to the process?
"I still have some years left in my legs," he said.