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New role, new feeling


JACKSONVILLE – Jason Babin has seen a lot in nine NFL seasons. He has seen success and struggles, and he also has seen a few different teams.

But he hasn't seen this.

Or at least he hadn't heard it. Not until now. Not a head coach telling him he wants him on the team – really, really wants him – while at the same time telling him he's going to be key to the defense while telling him he also wants him to take on a leadership role.

Babin has heard some of those at different times in different seasons, but to hear it all at once from a guy as energetic and believable as new Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley?

Babin hadn't heard that before, but he has heard it this offseason.

"He's challenged me to be a leader – to help, to build, to construct, to teach . . ." Babin said this week as Phase One of the Jaguars' voluntary offseason program continued at EverBank Field. "That's not something I've always done, but he has made me aware of what this team needs, and he's asked me to do it."

And know this: Babin likes what he hears. He likes it a lot.

"If I can help this team, it's what I'm going to do – any way I can," Babin said. "He makes you feel good about it."

Like the entire Jaguars' roster, Babin is in Jacksonville these days for the offseason. The "voluntary" part is great, but this is a new era and regime around the Jaguars, and there's much to learn. There are a lot of smiles around EverBank Field, and Babin's smile is noticeable among them.

With reason.

This Leo position, this thing that has become a source of fascination for Jaguars fans, is defined as a hybrid end/linebacker position. There are some subtleties involved, but at its core it's a guy who needs to play fast and to be fast.

It's a guy who needs to be aggressive.

 "It's attack, 'going'," Babin said. "It's not a lot of read-and-react. It fits what my skill set is."

It fits enough that defensive end coach Todd Wash said recently that although every position on the roster is about competition, Babin would likely begin at that spot.

That means Babin, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, has a chance to go from being claimed by the Jaguars off waivers late last season to a role he believes is perfectly suited for him.

A 2004 first-round selection by Houston, Babin had 13 sacks in three seasons for the Texans, and then played for Seattle, Kansas City and Philadelphia. He found a niche in 2010 under defensive line coach Jim Washburn and registered 12.5 sacks and made the Pro Bowl for Tennessee. He then had another Pro Bowl season after signing with Philadelphia as a free agent with 18 sacks in 2011.

After registering 5.5 sacks in 11 games in 2012, Babin was released by the Eagles near the end of a disappointing season for the franchise. Jacksonville claimed him off waivers, and if the events weren't positive, he said the results were.

"I don't think I could have planned it any better," he said.

But when talking this week about the new Jaguars' defense, as excited as he was about the role, that wasn't what Babin sounded the most excited about. It was when discussing Bradley, Wash and the organizational structure that Babin spoke fastest and with the most enthusiasm.

Bradley has excited the fan base, and he has gained the attention of national media with his high-energy style. He has done the same with the Jaguars' players, and though Babin is very much a veteran with a keen eye for coaches, he has done the same with Babin, too.

"The thing I'm most excited about with Gus, after being able to spend some time with him, is his sincerity level," Babin said. "I'm an older player, and I feel like I can meet someone and get a vibe for them. He's obviously a good coach, but you can tell he's a good person. That part is pretty amazing. His approach, his style to everything; it's such a positive, exciting direction."

Babin added with a laugh, "Even when you get yelled at, you feel good about it."

That feeling? That total buy-in? That's not something Babin necessarily expected when he arrived in Jacksonville last season. He had just come from Philadelphia where, after a standout first season, things went awry in year two.

Washburn, the coach who helped revive his career, was fired shortly after Babin's release. Babin arrived in Jacksonville in time to register a sack and a half as the Jaguars finished out a disappointing 2-14 season.

Babin spoke at the time of wanting to stay in Jacksonville, but at the end of such a season nothing is certain.

Nothing is certain now, either. Bradley's theme is competition and making players uncomfortable, so no one is talking much about certainty around EverBank Field these days.

But Babin is certain of a few things. He's certain he believes in Bradley, and he's certain this is where he wants to be. As important, he's certain Bradley believes in him.

"He's like, 'I want you here,'" Babin said. "I've been places where I was like the stepchild. I've probably been the stepchild most of the time, but here he's excited, he wants me here. He wants me to be part of the leadership. I've got to sit back and approach things from a different mindset, so it's definitely exciting for me personally.

"You know how they say, 'It's better to be lucky than good?' I feel like I almost got, like, a second chance."

Yes, Babin likes what he hears. And after a career in which that hasn't always been the case, that's a good feeling.

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