The pressure didn't get to him. "I always knew I was going to play well," Reggie Hayward said.
And he did. Hayward rewarded the Jaguars' $10 million confidence in him with an 8.5-sack season and the best defensive end play the team had gotten since Tony Brackens was in his prime.
"You want to give the team the satisfaction that they went out and got a guy who is worth every penny they paid him. I just wanted to say 'you spent your money right,' " Hayward said.
The Jaguars targeted him at the start of free agency. They wanted a premier pass-rusher at the defensive end position. He was their guy and they signed him quickly to a big deal that some questioned. Hayward was a part-time player in Denver, they said.
He quickly became a full-time fixture with the Jaguars. He led the team in sacks and quarterback pressures, and his goals for 2006 are considerably higher.
"It wasn't an outstanding season. It was on the verge of becoming outstanding. Eight-and-a-half sacks is solid but I wouldn't call it outstanding. I can do better and I know I can do better," Hayward said following Thursday's "veteran camp" practice.
"Last year we had some success, but we didn't have enough. We got the critics off our backs, but that's not enough," Hayward added.
What would qualify as "enough" in '06?
"Double-digit sacks; I'd like to double my total of sacks," Hayward said. "I hate to put a number on it because I might short myself. I want to say I'll get more and it's going to go from solid to outstanding."
Every Jaguars defensive player is brimming with confidence. The Jaguars defense continues to dominate practices. It's one of the NFL's top defenses and it wants to become an elite unit.
"I can see us being top five. It's a realistic goal. Let's try to get into the top three. I think we have the tools to do it," Hayward said.