Jaguars offensive guard Uche Nwaneri, entering his sixth season in the NFL, has started each of the last four seasons. Last season, he turned in perhaps the best of his five NFL seasons, garnering some recognition nationally as a possible Pro Bowl-level player as a member of an offensive line that helped Maurice Jones-Drew lead the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,606 yards. Nwaneri recently sat down with jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser to discuss his thoughts as the 2012 season approaches.
This is a new offensive scheme, but in terms of technique, do things change for you and the other offensive linemen under Head Coach Mike Mularkey?
It's more adjusting to the way the system is presented now as opposed to years past. It's not so much different in terms of what the offensive linemen do. It's a lot different in terms of what the running backs and receivers do. On the offensive line, it's the same concepts, but they're called different things. There are a couple of more technical things we have to be prepared to use. We're given a little more flexibility in terms of how we handle calls and certain protections and certain plays. Our technique doesn't change. How we execute certain blocks and pass protections, those stay the same.
So for you guys, it's about knowing what's going on around you . . .
With (Offensive Line) Coach (Andy) Heck (returning) and with (Offensive Line Assistant) Ron Prince coming in, there have been some additional notes put on as far as techniques goes to help us better our techniques and take them to another level, but it hasn't changed the fundamentals that we use.
You've been outspoken about being excited about what's going on around here this offseason. Why? Why is this different now?
I just think it's a breath of fresh air. Everybody has really bought in to what Coach Mularkey wants out of the team and what he demands in terms of our intensity and our focus. With Mr. (new Jaguars Owner Shad) Khan, there's a new energy in terms of how he's trying to get the Jaguars out there. There's the attitude of, 'Winning a championship.' That brings energy to everybody. At a point, you get used to the same thing. It kind of wears on you. You believe in what you're trying to accomplish, but when you get the same result, you're like, 'Man, is there something more we can do to get ourselves over this hump?' Coach Mularkey and this coaching staff, they have set the expectations high. Everybody here wants to be a champion. Everybody here wants to get to a Super Bowl. We want to be back in the playoffs. That's just the first step. That's not anything. We're trying to win championships.
A lot of people thought you had your best year last year. What's next?
I just have to continue to improve. To really become a productive and successful player, you have to start with your weaknesses. Every year in the offseason, I go into the mode of working on things I don't feel like I'm that good at. There are a number of things I can talk about as far as footwork and hand carries that I'm constantly working on. Those are things you have to build habits with. Last year, I was able to get into the habit of having my feet in the right place and my hands in the right place. It worked well for me, but I always try to keep going further. I try to be hard on myself and try to not think of myself as a player who doesn't need to do much to get better. I can do a lot to try to make myself better.
You hear a lot of talk that this line is a run-blocking line and can't pass-block. Does that tweak you a little?
You kind of wonder what people are really looking at. You hear people say things like, 'Those guys are a mediocre line. We don't consider them a Top 10 offensive line.' To me, how many lines that are below average have the rushing title? On a team that didn't have wide receivers and had to play against eight-and nine-man boxes – every time? If we're such a bad line, how do we get the rushing title? When it comes to pass protection, we're adequate, but we can get better. Everything works hand in hand when it comes to pass protection. When a quarterback gets hit, yes that has to do with protection but you also have to look at it from the perspective of, 'Why did he get hit? Was the ball held too long? Was the receiver open? Was it a timing route? Was the wide out where he was supposed to be?' We know we can do better. We always want to get better. We'll continue to work at it.
You're a player who's good with the fans, good with the media, good at communicating. Is that important to you?
I was taught from a young age that you need to be able to speak and communicate well with others. You always want to be polite and respectful because you never know who you're going to run into. You never know, down the line, when you might need help and if someone will help you because of the respect you showed or if they're not going to help you because you were a jerk. For me, I'm an expressive person. I like to voice my opinion. I try to do it in the most rational, sensible way I can. I've never been one who wants to rant and rave and take jabs at people. I always try to take that mindset when I deal with media and I always want to be polite with fans. Who wants to be known as a jerk? I never saw why guys would blow off fans. They just want to shake your hand and take a picture. Those are the people who support you. I like to show that love back to the fans. They come out in the heat, too, and watch us practice for two hours? That's hard. To stand in the heat and bake? They show dedication to the Jaguars. I want to show dedication to them as well.
You're going into your sixth season. What would it mean to you to be part of this thing when it gets turned around? You've been through some dark times.
It will be huge. Not only myself, but there are a lot of guys who have been here multiple years who have put their hearts into it. You go out every Sunday expecting to win. It doesn't always happen, but the past few years it has been really tough. I think a lot of guys have passed opportunities to go somewhere else in the hope that things would turn around here, including myself. I've wanted to be here. It wasn't a contract that made me stay here. I wanted to be a Jaguar. It will be all the sweeter to be here when things turn around. I can still remember my rookie season like it was yesterday. Guys always say, 'It flies by fast,' and it has been fast. We've had ups and downs, but if I could do it again, I'd do it again. I love where I am. I love being a Jaguar, and I think great things are right on the horizon for us.