Justin Durant sat at his locker inside Jacksonville Municipal Stadium earlier this week, sweat dripping down his face following a morning workout. Durant's smile to begin the interview immediately disappeared when he was asked to relive the 2009 season.
Durant was really confident about 2009 being his "breakout season." It's very simple from Durant's point of view about what happened; he wasn't at his best.
That's hard to believe considering he was second on the team with a career-high 135 tackles along with four tackles for loss. He led the team with 90 solo tackles.
Granted, there are plenty of excuses he could use for his so-called "disappointing" performance but he refuses.
"No excuses," Durant said.
Durant was moved to middle linebacker for the first time in his career as the Jaguars played more 3-4 defense, but the unit went back to its traditional 4-3 scheme midway through the season.
In week four against Tennessee, Durant sustained a hip injury that sidelined him for two games. After he recovered from that injury, he suffered a concussion two weeks later in the win at the Jets.
"It's tough because my legs are one of my strengths," Durant said. "It was frustrating but at the same time I don't use that as an excuse on how the rest of the season went. I can only blame myself for not doing the things I needed to do."
The concussion not only knocked him out of the Buffalo game, but gave him an uneasy feeling.
"I knew where I was but I was just blacking out and waking up," Durant said. "The real symptoms didn't set in until a couple days later. I was dizzy just from walking around and I had a constant headache on the left side of my head. I was really nervous about getting back out there on the field because I didn't want to feel like that again."
He returned to the lineup at San Francisco after he was fully cleared by the medical staff and posted eight tackles including one for a loss against the 49ers.
"I was kind of hesitant at first, but I felt like I was ready and I was cleared," Durant said. "That is just the competitor in me. I wanted to be out there for my team. When I first got out there I was a little hesitant to get hit. Once I got hit a couple of times, I felt it but it wasn't anything that was going to keep me out."
Playing a 3-4 wasn't a totally new experience for Durant. He played in a similar system in college, but it was at a much different level where the scheme was focused on blitzing and stunting to make up for the lack of size.
That didn't show much on the field considering he led the team in tackles the first three weeks including 14 and 15 stops the first two games.
"We are supposed to be ready for anything as professionals regardless of what it is," Durant said. "It's our job to be prepared. My style of play and my size is probably more suited for a 4-3 linebacker. I talked to the coaches and we are excited about going back to a 4-3."
Durant knows what he wants to accomplish this offseason and most of it involves the mental side of the game. With three years in the NFL, it's no secret that opposing coaches are watching for tendencies and different ways to attack him.
"Everybody has talent," Durant said. "It's about who puts in the most work in the classroom, who's the most prepared. That's what gives you the edge you need. Some people are going to be naturally more talented than others, but if you're just as talented as somebody, it's the mental part that is going to take over."
The Jaguars were in the playoff hunt late in the season, but a four-game losing skid to end the season was too much to overcome. For Durant's part, he wasn't happy with the way he finished especially from a physical standpoint.
His work this offseason started more than a month before the rest of the team is scheduled to report for offseason conditioning on April 5. The goal is to work closely with Jaguars strength coach Luke Richesson in the offseason and begin training camp at 240 pounds.
"I need to get stronger and be more physical this year," Durant said. "I'm here trying to build up my strength and my muscle endurance. I don't want to get fatigued toward the end of the season like I was last year, more than I should have been. I wasn't as powerful at the end of the season as I should have been. I'm doing everything in my power to make sure that doesn't occur again."
The Jaguars will have plenty of competition at linebacker led by veteran Daryl Smith. Durant, who has started 33 of 40 career games, will have to earn a starting job. Other players in the mix include fifth-year pros Clint Ingram and Brian Iwuh along with last year's rookie free agent Russell Allen.
Of course, the club could add another linebacker during the draft in April.
"I already said they are probably going to draft a linebacker," Durant said. "Who can blame them? Daryl has been the most consistent year-in and year-out of all of us. I realize that I've been inconsistent and that's something that is bothering me. I'm going to make sure that the word inconsistency is not going to be about Justin Durant. That is not going to be the word.
"It doesn't really matter to me who they bring in. I embrace the competition and it's just going to make our unit better. Whatever they choose for me to do I'm fine with it."
As Durant finishes up the interview, he cracks a small smile but leaves with some final words.
"I plan on coming back with a vengeance and having a great year," Durant said.