JACKSONVILLE – He's healthy and he's happy.
You know the first part by his words and the second part by the look on his face – and when Marcell Dareus talks about being fully healthy this offseason, that face wears a large smile.
"I'm in Jacksonville, soaking up the sun," Dareus said this week during Week 3 of Jaguars 2019 organized team activities at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex adjacent to TIAA Bank Field.
"I'm just enjoying life right now."
One reason for that is Dareus is still with the Jaguars, a team for which the veteran defensive tackle has enjoyed playing enough that he restructured his contract this offseason to allow the team salary-cap relief.
"I've made a lot of money," Dareus said. "It's not like I wouldn't want more, but this gives this organization a better opportunity and me a different way of looking at my next opportunity."
Another reason Dareus is enjoying life these days: He was fully healthy entering the offseason and he remains so – something the ninth-year veteran said he can't remember being through an offseason.
"I'm just happy that this time of year I have nothing in the way for me to stay focused," Dareus said. "I can just clear my head and enjoy life and play the game. It's not having injuries, being in shape …
"It's everything. It's just not having anything in my way to keep me from working."
Offseason health is an oft-underrated factor in the NFL. Offseason surgery and/or rehabilitation from injuries/surgery can delay conditioning necessary to prepare for the regular season. As players age and injuries sometimes become more frequent, healthy offseasons often become rarer.
Dareus has missed just one game since joining the Jaguars – but while he hasn't been injured often or seriously in that span, his full health this offseason is a rare gift.
"Year Nine and being healthy? That's crazy," Dareus said with a smile. "This is my first time in years coming into a season healthy, in shape. I don't have to do anything extra – just get into the playbook and refresh myself. Mentally, I'm focused on what they need, what we try to do. For the complete package to be a certain way, I'm happy."
Dareus, 29, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Buffalo Bills, joined the Jaguars in a midseason trade in 2017. While many observers perceived the trade as a short-term measure for the Jaguars, Dareus now enters his second full season with the team.
He has for the most part played at a high level since joining the Jaguars, helping the Jaguars dramatically improve as a run defense following his acquisition. If the Jaguars are to be an elite defense in 2019, Dareus' ability to stop the run and pressure the passer from the interior likely will be key. So, what does an offseason of full health mean for that ability?
"I don't know," Dareus said. "That's the crazy question. I don't know. We'll find out at the end of the season when we see what happens. My focus is to be the best player I can possibly be. Whatever these guys need me to do, whatever I have to do … no hesitation.
"I never set goals. I never set expectations. The only thing I can say as a goal is to be my best. If I leave a game knowing I did everything in my power to help my team win, if I prepared well to help my team, I don't feel bad."
"I just try to help as much as I can. If that is just talking to them when they need talking to besides the football aspect or just being there when they need me to be there as far as going over plays and things like that. I try to master the playbook as much as I can, so when they do ask me questions, I can go out there and help."
--WR Marqise Lee on remaining a leader while returning from a knee injury that cost him the 2018 season