O-Zone Conversation: Josh Oliver

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Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Josh Oliver (89) makes a reception during warm ups prior to an NFL football game against the New York Jets on Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019, in Jacksonville, Fla. The Jaguars won 29-15. (Perry Knotts via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Tight end Josh Oliver, a third-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2019 NFL Draft, played collegiately at San Jose State University. He impressed coaches and observers with impressive practices during the Jaguars' 2019 offseason program but missed training camp with a hamstring injury. His rookie season was then cut short by a back injury and he finished 2019 with three receptions for 15 yards while playing in four games. He nevertheless has the potential to contribute significantly to the Jaguars' offense, a unit that needs improved production from the tight ends in 2020. Oliver recently joined senior writer John Oehser to talk about his rookie season, his expectations for his second season and his thoughts on the team's tight-end group as a whole. Here's the O-Zone Conversation with Oliver:

Question: COVID-19 and the virtual nature of the offseason program have made this perhaps the strangest offseason in NFL history. It strikes me that every young player must be anxious to get back practicing. But considering what you went through, you must be particularly ready…

Answer: I've had a couple of talks with Midd (Jaguars tight ends coach Ron Middleton). He has just told me to keep calm and control what you can control. That's the workouts, keeping my head down and waiting until I get out on that field again.

Q:Middleton has been around the NFL a long time – as a player and a coach. How did he help you last season?

A: Everybody in that room helped me in a different way. Everybody has gone through some type of injury or some type of obstacle they had to push through. Pretty much everybody in that room collectively helped me keep my morale high and made sure I was staying positive. It was a crucial year that could have been a good one, but at the same time it was just one year – and it was my rookie year. I feel like I have something to build on in Year Two.

 Q: Is it hard to put into words how difficult it is for an athlete when they just can't physically do what they want to do?

A:That's just dealing with the adversity you face. A lot of people don't understand football and the injuries that come from it. I've played football since I was seven and this was the first time for me dealing with a major injury. It can weigh on you, but it's all about the people you have around you. I lean on family a lot. I live with my brothers in Jacksonville; having them around and keeping me positive … the injuries I had were season-ending injuries, but at the same time it could have been more serious.

Q:And for the record … you're 100 percent and good to go when things get going…

A: At the end of the [2019] season, I was cleared 100 percent.

Q: That has to be a cool thing to hear after all of that.

A: It was awesome. I was eager. As soon as New Year's happened, I went back to Southern California and started training with the people I trained with before the draft – and I worked with physical therapy on maintenance and stuff.

Q: How are you approaching the virtual offseason?

A: I'm meeting every day with my position coach. Me and [tight end] Charles Jones are second year, so we've been dropping in on meetings every day at 6:45 in the morning. Also: [quarterback] Gardner [Minshew II] has been doing walkthroughs twice a week. We do them on a [virtual] white board, per se. We can't do them in real life. Besides that, it's a lot of mental stuff: different film, the way certain players have run routes in the offense against different defenses …

Q: You're around Jacksonville, so you hear people talk about the team. When tight end gets mentioned, it's always about how the position is perceived as a weakness. I'm curious the thoughts of those in the position group about that…

A: It's definitely a chip on all of our shoulders. We definitely have something to prove next season with all of the guys we have and all of the talent we have. It's something you tone out, but at the same time you harvest that and take that with you whenever you're going out, working out or doing something. There are people out there doubting what we can do and doubting us, so it's added energy. It helps.

Q:Because you played just four games last season, your name sometimes doesn't come up when people talk about tight ends … or when it does come up, people wonder what you can do …

A: I fully get people not knowing what I have. I played four games last season and I never got to really show anybody what I was capable of. I came in midseason, so that's something I have to prove. I have to come out and show the fans I can play. I have yet to prove it in the NFL and I think that's something I have to strive for.

Q:Did you learn anything from last season – from the four games you did play, from practice – that you can carry forward?

A: Definitely. Just those four games, I feel like I improved – getting used to the speed of the game. I think those games were crucial for me just to get out on the field. I never got to go through preseason. I never got to go through any of the games, so actually having NFL reps under my belt – I think that's a huge thing going forward into Year Two. I know what to expect in a game. I know what to expect when we're traveling. I have a good feel for what's going on. The next step is just going out there and playing.

Q:And just being around the league for a year – seeing everything, knowing what's expected – that can be a big difference for a young player…

A: I think definitely that's the case. When you're a rookie, everything is thrown at you. You're living in a new city. You're living with new people. You have new coaches. A new training staff. You have new faces everywhere. Developing that chemistry and that relationship with people around you I think is a huge thing.

Q: The "book" on you coming into the NFL was that you weren't a blocking tight end. You discussed this a lot last year, but when I spoke to Middleton about this a few weeks ago it struck me how passionate he was that that perception was wrong. He believes you're a very capable blocker and that you just need to get accustomed to the NFL and work on technique.

A: Coach Midd … as soon as I got drafted that was one of the first things he said. Before the draft, the NFL came out with reports that I was a non-factor in blocking. Coach Midd said, "Don't pay any mind to that. Use that to fuel you. Just remember that people label you as a non-factor." It's one of those things that you use to motivate you more than anything. You just have to go out and prove to people that you're capable of blocking. That's what I take from it. There are always pet peeves, but at the same time I've yet to prove it so I can't really defend myself.

Q: You sound like you're in a good place as 2020 approaches.

A: I just feel I've been doing the work right now and preparing myself for this next year. Not to say I didn't do the work last year, but I've just been focused and focusing my energy more on certain things. I feel that given the circumstances of everything, I've been preparing myself pretty well for the next year.

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