Maurice Williams is ready to get the pads back on and hit somebody. The former Michigan standout suffered a biceps injury in the 2008 season-opener and missed the remainder of the season. It wasn't easy for him to watch his teammates go through a 5-11 season and he is ready for his ninth NFL season to get underway.
Williams has played in 101 games with the Jaguars, starting 96, since being drafted in the second round of the 2001 draft. He moved to guard in 2007 where he is competing to start in 2009. He sat down with jaguars.com recently to discuss his health, the new offensive linemen, his career after football and hopes of finishing his career in Jacksonville.
You are entering your ninth year in the league. There are gray hairs on the top of your head. Are you starting to feel old?
"No. Actually right now I'm probably feeling the best I have felt in years as far as my conditioning and flexibility. My energy for the game has been renewed after what happened last year and I have a whole new outlook for this year. I'm excited."
You signed a new contract last offseason and the team was coming off a playoff run, then you are injured right before kickoff of the opener. How tough was it for you personally last year?
"It was tough because I felt like I had a great training camp and preseason. I felt like I was getting better every week and was excited to open the season up and have a great year. I wanted to help push our team to go further than we did the year before. To get hurt early was disappointing."
What exactly happened?
"I tore my biceps and labrum. I tried to play through it but I didn't have the power to do what I needed to do. The choice was to try and rehab it and see where I was at or get the surgery and know that I would pretty much be able to get back to normal."
What were the emotions like for you last year as the team struggled on the field?
"It was just the way it all trickled down. You look at Rich (Collier), (Brad) Meester early in camp getting hurt then me and then Vinny (Manuwai) right after me. Those were some of the top dogs that were supposed to help the offensive line be the best that they can be. It was disappointing to see the struggles early on, but it was also encouraging to see that some guys got in there and had a chance to play. As a player, it hurts. We use the term family around here and it hurts when your family is not out there doing their best."
Since Jack Del Rio arrived in 2003, this team has always been a physical one that dominates on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Do you take pride in that as an offensive lineman?
"You have to have solid offensive and defensive lines. It all starts up front. The offensive line can provide time for David (Garrard) and open up holes for Maurice (Jones-Drew) or whoever has the ball. If Dave is getting hit every time he drops back then he can't be the best quarterback he can be. If Maurice is getting hit as soon as he touches the ball then he can't be the running back he wants to be. It starts in the trenches with us being physical and being able to take control of the game."
You have made 85 starts at right tackle and two at left tackle. Who are some of the best defensive ends you have faced?
"Jason Taylor was always a tough day. It was just the way he rushed. He wasn't necessarily the most physical rusher but he was a good technician. He was able to take advantage of things you were maybe not doing right. A guy I loved playing against with Tennessee was Kevin Carter. I wouldn't say he was the toughest guy I played against, but he was a physical player and I like to think of myself the same way. Those would be the top two. It's a whole new ballgame now going against defensive tackles."
Offensive linemen are a prideful group. Do you spend more time around your fellow linemen than your family during the season?
"Yes. We spend so much time together during the season with the demands of the work schedule. We take pride in what we do and we understand it's all guts and no glory sometimes. We accept that role. We know our jobs are just as important as the guys that are getting all the attention. When we don't do our jobs, then we as a team are more than likely not going to have a good day."
The club used the first two picks in 2009 on offensive linemen Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton and added rookie free agent Cecil Newton. As a veteran, how do you help integrate these guys into the system?
"We bring them in the fold and let them know how we do things. We show them the foundation of how we have done things the last couple of years and how we expect to work. If we are going to run then we are going to run hard. If it's practice then we are going to practice hard. We are not going to be lackadaisical through anything. The young guys see that and they start to follow the older guys. It's really about being a leader for them and encouraging them when they are struggling."
What have you seen so far from the rookie linemen?
"They have a lot of talent and they have great prospects for a bright future. It's going to take time to learn the system and compete. They will have plenty of time to compete beginning with training camp in a couple of weeks."
You are now playing guard after starting your career at tackle. What position do you prefer?
"In a perfect world, I am comfortable with whatever position they put me in. I literally mean this every time I say it, but I really just enjoy playing the game. As long as I still have this passion to play and go out to win then I'm going to continue to do it. Once that passion and love for the game is gone then I'm going to walk away."
You have been involved in numerous things off the field, whether it's volunteering your time in the community, attending classes or interning with major companies. What are your aspirations when you are done playing?
"I'm always trying to learn new things and see what's out there. I am preparing myself for what is going to happen next. There's going to come a day when football is going to be over. Right now I'm totally committed to football. My number one goal right now is to be the best football player I can be and that's why I'm in the NFL."
You attended classes in 2007 at the Stanford School of Business and you spent this offseason at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania as part of the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial program. How much of a benefit is it for the NFL to provide these opportunities for current or former players?
"Both of those programs were great because it allows you to see another side of the game. The Stanford program focused a lot on marketing your brand. You are your brand as a NFL player. You are good as you allow yourself to be and how you market yourself in the public, how you market yourself in the community on a daily basis. At Wharton, we focused a lot on real estate and what the benefits can be for you. We focused on a plethora of things, finance and negotiating. A lot of it was practical and I can use now and some of that stuff just sparked a more hunger to keep learning."
In 2005 you spent time as an intern with Merrill-Lynch in Jacksonville. What did it feel like being behind a desk for a change?
"I just spent some time with the guys learning how they go about working with their clients as far as getting stocks, bonds, putting together mutual funds and just seeing how they operate on a daily basis. The way I'm wired is if I have an interest in something then I'm going to see if I can go a little deeper into it. It was a great opportunity for me to learn."
You are the father to two young sons, Mason and Myles Christian. How has fatherhood changed your perspective?
"When you're young and single then it's all about you all the time. Now my time is more devoted to my wife and two kids. There is nothing more that I want to do than be successful in their eyes. I want my children to have something to look up to and aspire to be and know that their dad will do his best for them in everything he does."
How much longer can you or do you want to play?
"It's a year-to-year deal. I want to finish my contract out here. Three years from now might be a better time to answer that question."
Very few players play their entire career with one team.
"It very rarely happens, but I would love to finish my career as a Jacksonville Jaguar. The city has been great to me. The Weavers have been great to me. I would love to finish my career in this city."
The team reports to training camp on Sunday, August 2. What are your plans until then?
"I'm going to do another week of training here and then I have two weeks to relax and spend time with the family. We're going to get away and get our minds off football. I just want to focus on family because this will be the last time this year that I will get quality time with them. I am going to enjoy my wife, children and put my feet up."
Does it make it tough knowing that when you return you will be practicing twice a day in triple-digit temperatures?
"It's more mental the older you get. Your body knows what it has to go through. Every year it's about not listening to that little voice we always say as athletes. I'm looking forward to training camp and competing."