It was no secret that in 2010 the Jaguars entered free agency looking for a defensive end who could boost a defense that lacked a proven pass-rusher. The Jaguars found their man in Aaron Kampman, who brought a resume that included 58 career sacks and two trips to the Pro Bowl.
Jaguars general manager Gene Smith knew the type of player Kampman was, but it was also the veteran's presence off the field that he thought would pay dividends for a young team. It didn't take long to see the results.
The impact started when Kampman joined his new teammates in the weight room for a workout on the day his signing was announced to the media. While rehabbing a season-ending knee injury suffered in 2009, Kampman was a presence for all of the Organized Team Activities (OTA) and minicamp sessions, working diligently on an adjacent field while his new teammates practiced.
Kampman got off to a good start in his first season in Jacksonville with a team-leading four sacks and 30 quarterback pressures in the first eight games. He has been forced to deal with injury once again, however, as he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his right knee during practice on Nov. 11 and subsequently underwent surgery.
Though he was not on the field for the second half of the season, Kampman was still a constant presence in the locker room and meeting rooms on a daily basis. He is the veteran of the defensive linemen and is looking forward to rejoining his teammates in 2011.
Kampman sat down with jaguars.com this week for a two-part interview in which he discusses the support of the Jaguars fans, the future of the Jaguars defensive line, his leadership role in the locker room and much more.
Here's part one:
You left Green Bay after eight years, tested free agency and ended up in Jacksonville. It was a totally different experience for you. How was your first year in the Sunshine State?
We absolutely love it here. I had heard horror stories of guys that had left an organization, especially one like Green Bay that is known for doing their best to try and treat their players well. I remember one guy left, went to another organization, and he told me he knew it was a mistake two weeks after he got there. For us to come here and feel so welcomed by the team, the coaches, the support staff and the community. Today at lunch, everyone was saying, 'Hey man, we are so close. I'm looking forward to next year.' There is a definite excitement and I think a lot of people recognize, especially those that love the game of football, how close we are to getting where we want to try and get to.
*The city of Green Bay is passionate about the Packers. Were you surprised about how much support you received from the community in Jacksonville? You probably didn't know much about the Jaguars prior to your arrival. *
Yes, I was (surprised). Because Brad (Meester) was here I knew some, but there wasn't a Jaguars jersey in the Midwest necessarily. You might see a Maurice (Jones-Drew) jersey here or there. It has been a pleasant surprise to see the support. Last year there was talk of the 'B' word (blackout) and we didn't have any of those this year. I said it from the beginning as long as we are winning and putting a product out there that people can be proud of then we'll continue to get the support that we need. From what I can tell this is a football-type town. People do want to be excited about the Jaguars. Another lady this morning at the doctor's office told us she had been a season-ticket holder since day one. It's definitely there.
Switching over to football a little bit, I know you have been around a lot of different coaches and spent hours in meeting rooms with them. But have you ever encountered a guy as intense as defensive line coach Joe Cullen?
I didn't personally know anything about Joe. I met him on my first visit when I came down and one of my high school teammates, Jared DeVries, was with him in Detroit. Obviously I talked to him and he had nothing but great things to say about his ability and his knowledge of rushing the passer. Understanding his lineage, where he came from, his coaching tree which is a very prestigious one. As far as intensity, there is probably only one defensive line coach that I have been around that came close to Joe. Joe takes the cake.
You can always hear Joe on the practice field.
What I love about Joe is he's consistent with it. It's one thing if there is a guy that yells and screams one day and then the next day he's mellow and chill. Joe is the same guy. He loves football and he cares about us as guys. Players are smart and they know when someone wants the best for the group, the team and the individual. That's Joe's mentality.
It appears from the outside that Joe has a real passion for the game. He really changed the dynamic of that group starting with the Rushmen sign outside the meeting room.
There is no doubt he wants us to succeed and do well. In having an opportunity to be in a situation where he's doing the thing he really loves, and that's coaching professional athletes to get after the passer, that is a very deep and ingrained passion of his and it's portrayed in how he coaches us.
People have a tendency to forget of the Jaguars' ten defensive linemen the majority of the season, eight weren't here in 2009. Am I off base to think that is a huge amount of turnover?
That's enormous. That is really starting over from scratch, so to speak. You saw improvement and we would have liked even more. Usually for an individual coming into a league or a group, your second and third years are where you see the biggest improvements. You're kind of feeling each other out and getting acclimated. This was our first year back in a 4-3 defense after some inconsistencies the year before as far as figuring out exactly what we wanted to do scheme-wise. That's going to be huge; we all have another offseason together after actually knowing each other. For guys like Austen (Lane), Larry (Hart), D'Anthony (Smith) and Tyson (Alualu), they weren't with us in January, February, March and April to really get to know one other. The majority of the guys are all going to be around.
General manager Gene Smith has said on several occasions he wants to build the team beginning up front on the offensive and defensive lines. Talk about the two young tackles in Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu.
They are going to be the headline guys, but I'm also very excited to get D'Anthony (Smith) back. I think Douz (Leger Douzable) added a very strong component as well. Here's a guy who I think was on the street when we picked him up and he came in and he was just going to be a fill-in-the gap guy in training camp. All of a sudden he makes a bunch of plays and played well all year. I think Terrance, for a big man what's unique about him is his pass rush ability. To have his size and the ability to flip his hips like pass rushers have to do is impressive. Tyson came in with great hand activity and spin moves. He knows how to rush. For Tyson, it's continuing to hone some of the finer points of the game. The hard part for most defensive linemen is learning how to rush, and those guys already have that down.
Did you make your biggest improvement as a player from your first to second year?
I made a big jump. My career is a little bit different because I was still playing all four positions. I wasn't really honing in on one particular position. I had one that was kind of my home but I played all four positions on the line my first game of my second season. I was the guy that could play all the positions with the technique and leverage. You throw me in at nose at 285 and I could do it. But I think another offseason and those guys are going to continue to show growth, not just physically, but mentally from a leadership standpoint and emotionally on how to handle the length of the season. You have to remember half of our Rushmen were done playing football the end of November the year before. To get through and have that mental toughness to know what it takes, the monotony, the longevity of the season, is going to be really beneficial for them going into next year. That is a definite plus. Myself, I'll be able to be with everyone the entire season and continue to help shape where I can shape as we move into the later parts of the season.