JACKSONVILLE – He's getting healthier, which means he's closer.
And if this week is to mark Taven Bryan's preseason NFL debut, the rookie first-round defensive lineman has a simple desire.
"I just need to get hit," Bryan said with a smile Monday as the Jaguars continued 2018 Training Camp with a late-afternoon practice at the Dream Finders Home Practice Complex. "That's why I play the game: I need that first hit, the contact. It wakes me up and gets me going."
The Jaguars (1-1 in the preseason) will play the Atlanta Falcons (0-2) in a Preseason Week 3 game at TIAA Bank Field Saturday at 7 p.m. If Bryan plays, it will be a debut observers are anticipating – and Jaguars teammates are confident it would be the debut of a player with a bright NFL future.
"It should be fun," Bryan said.
Bryan, the No. 29 overall selection in the 2018 NFL Draft, was listed among the players expected to practice Monday afternoon.
Bryan missed the August 9 preseason opener against New Orleans, then after taking team repetitions in practice last Thursday against Minnesota he was held out of the Preseason Week 2 game against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium Saturday in Minneapolis.
Bryan said Monday he has been able to work and progress mentally despite the injury, and that the fact that the injury wasn't season-ending has kept him from being frustrated. But it's what is being said about him that has been the most notable in recent weeks.
Jaguars veteran three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell raised eyebrows last week when he called Bryan the best rookie he has been around in terms of his approach and willingness to do what's necessary to adapt to the NFL.
Campbell on Monday expanded on Bryan, calling his biggest current task "developing his toolbox," which is something that faces many young defensive linemen.
"The biggest challenge he's had is that he's so blessed that it's always been easy for him," Campbell said. "We communicate with him all the time, and you see him work stuff and do it, and it works. It works easy. It's like, bam. It's just the experience of going out and almost winning, getting close — and then that motivation of wanting to sharpen that more."
Campbell said Bryan appears motivated to turn that ability to into production, praising Bryan's attitude last week by saying, "Most guys give you a little bit of attitude, just some kick back. He came in with the mentality that he wants to soak up knowledge and he wants to get better every day. He wants to be dependable, and he is showing us that we can depend on him."
Bryan shrugged when asked about the complement.
"That's just kind of how I am," Bryan said. "I'm a pretty mellow guy, so if somebody says something, I'll look at it and see if it makes sense. If it makes sense, I'll try it. It not, I'll probably try it anyway. If it's successful and it works, I'm going to keep doing it. If not, I'll push it off to the side and continue on."
Bryan said Campbell's not alone in helping him transition to the NFL. He called all the Jaguars' defensive linemen "pretty cool."
"All of them are like him; he's just really old," Bryan said, adding seriously, "You have to be pretty good at the game to play that long."
Campbell's locker sits directly across from Bryan's in the Jaguars' locker room. Moments later, the 11-year veteran was talking the process of learning the fundamentals of playing defensive line in the NFL as it relates to Bryan.
"I wish I knew what I know now when I was young," Campbell said with a laugh. "It's night and day. The art of it is the timing and the all details. That comes with film study, experience and preparation. Most young guys when they come in … it's hard to make plays, get sacks. That's why there's so few of them."
While strength, quickness and power are among the prerequisites for greatness at the position – and while Bryan possesses all three – producing consistently requires focus, a mastery of subtleties and technique that often only comes with experience.
Campbell said he doesn't doubt Bryan will grasp what needs to be grasped – and that when he does, the results will be special.
"It just comes with time," Campbell said. "Everybody goes through growing pains; I don't care who you are. But you can tell this guy – he's going to be disciplined. He's going to push himself to be the best he can be. It's going to take time, like it will with anybody.
"But I believe he's going to continue to get better. In a couple of years, he's going to be as good as anybody."