No way was Jeremy Mincey going to change.
Mel Tucker never worried about this, nor did anyone around the Jaguars, so it didn't surprise Tucker this past off-season when Mincey approached him at EverBank Field after Mincey signed a long-term contract extension.
"Hey, I'm happy for you," Tucker told Mincey. "Congratulations."
Tucker said Mincey's response was quick and intense.
"He said, 'Coach, don't worry, man,''' the Jaguars' assistant head coach/defensive coordinator recalled Wednesday with a laugh between a pair of Jaguars 2012 Training Camp practices at the Florida Blue Health and Wellness practice fields.
"He said, 'I'm the same guy. I'm going to work even harder. I'm not going to get complacent.' "
As if Tucker imagined anything different. Change? Mincey?
"He's not that guy," Tucker said, smiling.
What Mincey is is a guy who worked for what he has achieved in the NFL, who overcame being out of football for a year to not only earn a starting position with the Jaguars, but to start all 16 games last season and register a career-high in sacks.
Then, came this past offseason.
Mincey, after receiving an offer from the Chicago Bears, signed a long-term contract extension that not only made him very well-paid, but established him as a core player on the defense. And Mincey said while some might see life-changing money as a reason to relax, he sees it differently.
"No matter what you do in life, you can't be content," he said. "The greatest test is to not be content when you have no financial issues to worry about. If anything, it makes me focus more on football. Now, I can focus on playing football as hard as I can."
Many players following the signing of a contract tell you expectations aren't an issue. Mincey said he takes the opposite approach there, too. Are there expectations? Yes, he said. Most of them come from him, but his aren't about numbers as much as they are about continuing to do what earned him the contract.
"I have to live up to my expectations, and I have huge expectations," he said. "I want to be remembered as a guy who gave his all. Magic happens when you give your all, and I want people to see that when they watch me."
That's what people saw from Mincey the last two seasons – effort in the offseason, effort in practice, effort in games. It's that trait that made Mincey a leader even before he was firmly established as a starter, and teammates say that hasn't changed.
"If you didn't know he'd signed a contract, you wouldn't know it," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "I'm just happy for him. One, he got paid. Two, he's been humble about it, and he still looks hungry."
Knighton is entering his fourth NFL season, and Tyson Alualu – the other projected starting tackle, is entering his third. If rookie Andre Branch doesn't start opposite Mincey, the second-round selection likely will play a key role as a rookie. It's a talented group, but it's still a relatively young group, and because of that, Knighton said Mincey's presence is all the more important.
"It's reassuring in practice when you're tired and you look next to you and Mincey is saying, 'Let's go, let's go,''' said Knighton, who said Mincey has been quick to help Branch throughout the off-season and training camp. "You don't want to let him down. That's the type of room we have. We don't want to let each other down. It all starts with him. He's our guy."
That he is that guy is remarkable. Then again, that he is in the NFL six years after being a sixth-round selection by New England in 2006 is remarkable, too.
The Patriots released Mincey shortly before his rookie season, and that December, he signed with the Jaguars off the 49ers' practice squad. He played nine games for the Jaguars from 2007-2008, but was waived in August of 2009.
He spent that season out of football, re-signed the following January, and midway through the 2010 season, emerged as a starter and finished with five sacks. This past season, he started all 16 games, leading the team with eight sacks and four forced fumbles.
That history makes Mincey a good story. Tucker said it also makes him a relatively safe bet to not struggle with the aftereffects of a huge contract.
"What helps him in this situation is that doesn't need to pick it up," Tucker said. "He doesn't need to be more intense. He's always that. He always plays hard. He always practices hard. He knows what he has done to get to this point.
"Even though he may have a couple of more steaks in the freezer, it's winning and getting better that motivates him. I'm a firm believer that people are motivated by achievement. Even though we're in a high stakes business and there's a lot of money involved, deep down people are motivated by achievement. He's one of those guys."
Mincey said that's true now more than ever, and he said although he very much wants to improve this season, he knows just as well that to do that, he needn't change a thing.
He was asked this week if at any time this training camp he thought about the need to be a leader, to show the world – or at least his teammates – that the effort and the drive that got him here was still inside him. He smiled.
"Nah," he said. "It's just in me. I refuse to lose and I refuse to let the man in front of me beat me. That's what makes you a better player. You're never perfect in this world, but you're never wrong if you're trying to be perfect. I'm always trying to be perfect.
"That's my goal, to try to be perfect every day."
And on that front, he won't be changing anytime soon.