JACKSONVILLE – This is a good time to be Tashaun Gipson. Really good.
It's not just his recently life-altering contract that makes that true, either, although that part is undoubtedly cool.
No, it's clear talking to Gipson there are many reasons the Jaguars' new free safety believes he is in a very, very good place. And one reason indeed is "place."
He likes Jacksonville. A lot. And he clearly believes strongly in the Jaguars, which was a major reason he signed with the team as an unrestricted free agent in March.
"I couldn't be more excited," he said. "This is an organization I'm excited to be a part of."
Another reason is personal, and that reason ties in with place. Because while Gipson has twice led the AFC in interceptions and while he made the Pro Bowl in 2014, he clearly believes he can and will improve on the field in the coming seasons.
He just as clearly believes that he's in the right place to do that.
"I don't feel like I've scratched the surface yet," Gipson said. "There's so much good football left in me. I truly in my heart believe there's so much about this game I need to learn. I feel like I'm still a developing player. I feel like can do that here in this defense. I think it's a blessing for me to be here."
Gipson, a fifth-year veteran who spent his first four NFL seasons with Cleveland after signing with the Browns as a collegiate free agent, recently sat down with senior writer John Oehser. Here's more of that conversation:
Question: You're nearly two months into your time with the Jaguars. You were clearly excited when you signed. What have your impressions been since?
Answer: I didn't know much about Jacksonville and didn't know what the city itself brought, but I couldn't be more pleased being here. I came to the draft-day party and that was an eye-opening experience. This is a great fan base. They want to win and they deserve to win. We have all the moving pieces and I'm excited to be with this organization and in this beautiful city.
Q: When you saw this fit – the need for a free safety and this young team – was there a feeling on your part of, "Hey, this is the right place at the right time?"
A: Once free agency started kicking in, I knew the Jaguars just seemed right. Even before we began communication, it just seemed like a great fit. I knew if I reached free agency the Jaguars were going to be at the top of my list. I wasn't sure at the time if I was going to be at the top of their list – or where I was going to fit in – but I knew if Jacksonville came calling it was going to be a serious interest on both parties. It worked out well. We hit the ground running and they showed me they wanted me. Not only did they change the course of my life financially, they showed me, "Hey, we want you to be the type of player we know you can be. We want you to be the 2014 Tashaun Gipson … you can do that in this defense."
Q: What about this defense fits you?
A: It keeps me in my comfort zone. I don't shy away from contact at all, but I feel my skillset is playing with that tenacity … when the ball is in the air, I want the ball by any means. This defense allows me to play by instincts, to be me, to play fast and cause nightmares on the back end. Throughout the course of my career, I've done that. They said, "If this is what you wanted, this is what you'll get." I looked them in the eye and said, "Y'all's expectations can't be high enough on me. I hope to exceed the expectations." This defense just fits perfect. I pride myself on, "No Balls Over My Head." There are going to be some throws and catches made, but I want opponents to understand that the middle of the field is going to be a scary place – and not just from bone-jarring hits … turnovers change the game. I put that on me. I don't care what [cornerbacks] Jalen [Ramsey], Prince [Amukamara] and Davon [House] are doing on the outside; I want to make sure no balls are going over my head. I feel like I'm the sheriff back there. I take this job with pride and I couldn't be more excited about my role in this defense.
Q: A lot of new faces in this secondary – and a lot of talent … is this a better secondary overall than maybe people around the NFL realize?
A: Without question. We have some good players back there, and I think we have some good players who can be elite players in their new roles. Cyp [safety Johnathan Cyprien] is going to thrive in this role; I think he's going to be a nightmare in the run game, guarding tight ends … House is going to step his game up and he already had a big year last year. Jalen Ramsey … it's so hard to know what rookies will do, but this guy's just got it. Some guys just have it and you look at him and he's got it. He really feels like he's the best – in a good way. He feels like he's the best and he wants to be the best. That's what I want out of my cornerback. I want my cornerback saying, "I don't want you to even come near me; I got this." That's the aura he presents. Prince is a great player – if it hadn't been for injuries, he'd probably have signed a big check somewhere. We have guys who have missed a lot of games because of injuries, but if we stay healthy I don't feel like we're second to anybody.
Q: You mentioned a lot of new players. It's a talented bunch, and you get the feeling you guys believe you will be good quickly. How long does a transition like this take? How long does a defense need to achieve continuity, etc.?
A: I would be lying if I said we'd have all of the pieces moving in OTAs and by the first of the season we're going to limit teams to 160 yards a game. There will be a transition because Cyp has to understand my game and I have to understand his game. House and Jalen and Prince … we all have to understand we have to trust each other; that's the first thing. In the secondary it's not as much about skill set as about trust and understanding who's the guy lining up next to you. Prince has to know that No. 39 [Gipson] in the middle of the field has him and I have to understand he'll do his job and vice versa. I personally don't think it will take long for us to transition to being the defense and the secondary we want to be, but it will have its growing pains. We'll learn on the fly, but the sky will be the limit for this group. It's going to be something special when we're all gelling all together.
Q: You clearly feel good about the direction of this franchise or you wouldn't be here. What is it about this organization right now that has everyone so optimistic?
A: If you walk in this locker room, if you understand the atmosphere and see the way that guys work, you wouldn't think this team was 5-11 last season. I thought this team was 7-9 or 8-8 until I did my homework, because you would never guess this team lost 11 games. It's hard to see it because you have all of this talent and the atmosphere and coaching is second-to-none. That's the way [Head] Coach Gus Bradley and people here operate. In my honest opinion, I think that's the recipe for success. There are teams that go 5-11 and it's, "We're a terrible football team; it is what it is." That's not the case here. We're 5-11, but we should have been 8-8 at worst and maybe better. The mindset here is where you want it to be. We're not going to hang our heads. We're not saying, "We've been 5-11 the last couple of years …" Absolutely not. This team knows our best days are in front of us.