These are the most important football games of Mike Logan's life. His career as a professional football player is at stake.
"This is my opportunity, now. I have to seize the moment. Now is the time. I accept the challenge and I'm excited about it," Logan said as he was about to make his first-ever pro start, at free safety, against the team of his youth, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Logan had waited more than three years for this. Previously, injuries had always forced him to the sideline. Now, injuries were affording him the opportunity to prove himself worthy of the second-round draft choice the Jaguars invested in him in 1997.
To date, his professional career has largely been a disappointment. He is in the make-or-break year of his Jaguars career, as he plays on a one-year tender contract that serves as motivation. One-year deals are prove-it ultimatums. Play well, and rewards will follow. Play poorly, and you're gone.
Last year, Tony Brackens and Aaron Beasley turned their one-year tenders into windfall contracts. Logan won't be able to do that, but a solid performance now will either open the door to a long-term career in Jacksonville, or cause other teams to be interested in Logan in unrestricted free agency.
"Coming in, there were a lot of expectations. I knew it would take time to settle into the safety position, but I didn't think it would take this long," Logan said.
He was a cover-cornerback at West Virginia, where coach Tom Coughlin personally observed Logan turn in one of the most athletic pre-draft workouts the Jaguars have ever witnessed. Coughlin fell in love with Logan's athletic ability, even though those talents would have to be re-shaped to fit the safety position.
The move to free safety wasn't made smoothly. Logan struggled with new technique and terminology, and he was bitten again by an injury bug that dogged him through college. In the summer of 1999, Logan made his greatest gains, but his route was blocked by the offseason signing of Carnell Lake, and then Logan broke an ankle early in the season. Fate was not Logan's friend.
This year, the circumstances have changed. Lake was lost for the season before it even began, then his replacement, Rayna Stewart, blew out a knee in week four, in Indianapolis.
"I feel like if I perform, they'll try to find a way to keep me here. I have to perform to even make them want to keep me here," Logan said.
"The mental part of the game, that's what he's struggled with the most; plus, injuries, too. This is a repetitions game, and if you don't practice, you don't get better at what you do," defensive backs coach Perry Fewell said of Logan.
"He's definitely going to get the opportunity, with him being a starter now. He's got to make a real conscious effort to be solid. We're going to increase his role a little bit and see if he can reclaim his skills and do the athletic things he did in college," Fewell added.
In his first start, Logan was judged to have played adequately. "He didn't make any mental errors. He tackled well," Fewell said.
Of course, that was against a Steelers team that reduces football to its lowest form of football strategy. Against the Steelers, coverage isn't the issue; tackling is. Logan's success will be defined by his ability to identify and understand what the opposition is attempting to do with its passing attack.
"The biggest test for me is to be comfortable and play. If I do, all of my abilities will come out," Logan said. "The first two years really were a struggle for me. The last two years have been different. Carnell Lake made it a lot easier for me."
Lake sits in on all defensive backs meetings and has personally tutored Logan in reading coverages and making proper coverage calls. This is Logan's litmus test. He has to achieve a Lake-like knowledge of the game, to establish himself as a professional football player.
"This is make-or-break time for me. Good things will happen if I play well," Logan said.