Jaguars linebacker Justin Durant is itching to return to the playing field. Durant suffered a strained hip flexor in the preseason opener at Miami and was sidelined for nearly a month.
The former Hampton star will be in the middle of the defense against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday as the Jaguars open the regular season. He sat down with jaguars.com to talk about the opener, what to expect from the club's defense and the rookies that will play a significant role this season.
You haven't played since the preseason opener at Miami. How excited are you to get back into the lineup?
I'm too excited right now, really hyped. It didn't pan out well for us last year and we ended with a sour taste in our mouth. I only got to play for a little bit in Miami so I'm real anxious to get out there, and then it's against the Colts. We're always extra hyped up for that one.
Do you feel behind by not playing most of the preseason?
Not really. I'm comfortable with where I'm at. I just want to go out and do well for myself and this team. It has nothing to do with what anyone thinks or what's going on. I just want to go out there and have a great season.
The team will open up with you, Clint Ingram and Daryl Smith as the linebackers. This group has started 11 games together and it appears to be a pretty tight group off the field.
Definitely. We're always doing something. You always see us out together, especially Daryl and Clint. You see them together everywhere. (Brian) Iwuh and I, we are a pretty tight-knit group overall. I think that also adds to the chemistry we have on the field.
Speaking of Clint, what's his strongest asset?
All of them are strong but it's probably how aggressive he is. He's really a fearsome hitter so that's probably his best out of all the great things he does.
How about Daryl?
He's the smartest guy I've probably ever seen out there. He has the most awareness I have probably seen at the linebacker position. Totally different person on the field. He has everything. He's fast, smart, quick and makes good decisions. He always stays disciplined.
You're coming off a season where you had a career-high in tackles and started 12 games. Do you see this as a year you take the next step in your progression?
I'm trying to get better every day and every game. I want to take everything I can from the coaches and older guys and just try to apply everything to my game; really just want to get better every week.
A lot of players talk about how they spent their offseason watching other players around the league. Did you watch much film of other linebackers?
I watched a couple of guys especially from last year. DeMeco Ryans of Houston and Patrick Willis are playing really well. Some of the younger guys that are around my age and are excelling in this league. Just seeing what they're doing and the type of things that I can add to my game.
The Jaguars have a large rookie class this year and could have as many as four starting on Sunday. Do you expect some butterflies for those guys?
Of course. That is how I was. That happens to everybody. But I think they're going to settle down really quick and go out there and play their hardest because that's what we expect. It's not like, 'okay he's a rookie.' He's on the team, he's on the field and he has to go out there and make plays.
The two rookies on defense that could start, Derek Cox and Terrance Knighton, don't seem intimidated by much.
Not at all. Derek just looks so comfortable, like he's been there for years already. Terrance is playing lights out for us right now so it's going to be good for us.
*You start with the Indianapolis Colts followed by the NFC Champions and then two more division games. This defense will be tested right away. *
We have to come out of the gate quick. I was talking to someone the other day and these first four games are going to decide who we are as a team overall. Three of the first four are division opponents. It's going to be tough coming out of the gate, but we're really going to know exactly where we are.
The Jaguars have 12 guys from non-Division I-A schools on the roster. That has to make you proud after you came from Hampton and have had a lot of success.
It does. It just shows that there is talent everywhere and we have the ability to make it as this level as well. Of course, everyone wants to be a D1 player and go to a major college, but everybody doesn't have that opportunity. It's good to see that the people in the front office are taking notice of the guys from smaller schools and giving them opportunities and they are taking advantage of it.
There's a perception that this defense won't be as vocal as in years past and doesn't have a defined leader. How do you see it?
You can be a leader as far as your actions but communicating is something you have to do on defense. Everybody is doing their own things. Some guys are more vocal, some are just playing, but we are all doing it by committee. That's the thing that's going to help us because we are so cohesive as a group. You can see everybody's assets and what they are bringing to the table.