As Rashean Mathis sees it, there's no real mystery.
Mathis, the Jaguars' nine-year veteran cornerback, said it's no surprise that Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio and many others around the organization believe he's having his best training camp in several seasons.
He feels it, too, and he said it has nothing to do with the "contract year" thing. The reason, Mathis said, is he's not only healthy now, he has been healthy the whole off-season. That's the first time that has been true in several seasons, and Mathis said you can't measure the value in that.
"I kind of forgot how it feels to be healthy coming into a training camp, and not spending the first couple of games of the season getting yourself healthy," Mathis said at Jaguars 2011 Training Camp, which continued Monday with a pair of practices.
Del Rio, while discussing third-year cornerback Derek Cox Monday, stopped and lauded Mathis for having "the best start of camp he has had in several years."
"He's been really strong in every area – meeting rooms, on the practice field," Del Rio said. "Whether it's watching tape or going over installation, he is very much dialed in. I think that's a real positive."
Mathis said he last finished a season healthy in 2007, entering each off-season since needing to rehabilitate an injury. An underrated part of an NFL player's year is off-season time spent conditioning and preparing for the following season. An off-season injury limits such time, and Mathis said it has played a factor in his recent seasons.
"When you're spending the off-season rehabbing, you're not progressing for that next season to come," Mathis said. "When you're healthy going in to the off-season, then everything you're doing is focused on the season to come instead of focused on getting healthy. You're months ahead when you're healthy in the off-season.
"All off-season, I felt 100 percent because I was 100 percent ending the season. You kind of forget what that feeling is like once you have a couple of seasons where you're injured ending the season."
Mathis said injuries weren't the only thing making the last two seasons difficult. After playing behind one of the NFL's most physical, dominant defensive lines early in his career, the Jaguars in 2009 registered an NFL-low 14 sacks, improving that total to 26 last season.
"Every great defensive back probably has a great defensive line," Mathis said. "It goes hand in hand. We can't ask the D-line to get there in two seconds and for us to cover for two. Vice-versa, they can't ask us to cover for six or seven seconds. Everyone loves a great defensive line. It shortens that time clock in the quarterback's head."
Mathis, too, said that in the last two seasons he has had to adjust to a different style. An "off-playing, vision corner" the first five or six years of his career, he said in the last two seasons he has been asked to play more press coverage.
The conversion wasn't always easy.
"It's something I had to buy into, and something that I have bought into," Mathis said. "When you buy into something, it allows your mind and body to accept it and you can become better at it. It was a process for me, because I didn't actually know that was the road we were going down.
"I knew it was a little of a change, so I was accepting, but I don't know if I actually bought into it. I was still able to play off at times, so it was like half and half. When you buy into something it allows you mentally and physically to say, 'OK, this is what I need to do to get better at this.' That's where I'm at now."
What Mathis said won't play a huge factor this season is that he is entering the final season of his contract. While he wants to remain with the Jaguars long-term, he said the idea that he is focusing more and working harder because he is in a contract year just isn't the case.
"As a man, you know, 'This is my situation,''' he said. "But I'm a competitor. Anytime I go out there I want to lay it on the line. I don't want anyone to catch anything on me. I don't want to miss any tackles."
Still, Mathis said he without question is anticipating this season more than any in a while – and not just because of good health and a positive attitude toward how the team wants him to play. The Jaguars revamped the defensive back seven early in training camp, and have shown signs of an improved pass rush – and to Mathis.
Mathis, who has been with the Jaguars when they were one of the NFL's best defenses and when they weren't close to that, said the opportunity to play dominant defense again is powerful motivation.
"There's an excitement," he said. "One thing is being healthy. You know your body. Me, at 100 percent, I love it against whoever, but with the people we've added, it's a good feeling. It's a vibe you can feel. And it's not a forced good feeling. We're making that step to take it to the next level. It's in the air and it's not us singing praises about something we're trying to force.
"It will be an awesome feeling. You see it and it's in your grasp and you have a chance to be part of the reason it could be great – that means a lot. If you never have it, you don't know what you're missing, but I've seen it, I've experienced it and I've been a part of it.
"Knowing the defense we have now – it would be awesome to get that feeling again, and with the group of guys we have, it will be something special."