JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser spent time this week with tight end Neal Sterling, discussing three questions as the Jaguars prepared to play the Minnesota Vikings at EverBank Field Sunday
The topic: The move
The background:Sterling, a seventh-round selection by the Jaguars in the 2015 NFL Draft from Monmouth, spent his rookie season as a wide receiver. He played nine games – mostly on special teams. The Jaguars this past offseason moved him to tight end, a position he never had played. He made the roster and has played eight games, emerging in recent weeks as an improving option in the passing game.
The questions:What was your reaction upon learning the Jaguars wanted to move you to tight end? And how did Jaguars director of player development and youth football Marcus Pollard – a former tight end for Indianapolis, Seattle and Detroit – help at that time?
The quote: "My first reaction was I was thinking it was going to be tough. I was kind of worried that all the work that I'd done the previous year to improve at receiver was kind of going to go to waste, because I had to learn and start from the bottom. I was a little worried about it, but at the same time, I kept my spirits up about it. I was still excited to be in a new position. I was little surprised, but I thought about it and thought it would be a good switch and a good move for me. I knew from talking to [Head Coach] Gus [Bradley] and Marcus Pollard – they opened my eyes up to what could happen at this position and how good I could be. They really helped me have a positive attitude about it. MP played basketball [at Bradley University] and came in and started playing tight end. He was in a similar position. I had played football, but had a whole new position and new role. He really helped me out a lot."
The topic: Learning to run block
The background:Sterling as a collegiate receiver rarely blocked for the run before reaching the NFL – and he certainly never blocked players on the level of NFL linebackers and defensive ends. That often is the biggest adjustment receiving tight ends must make transitioning to the NFL.
The question:When did you feel good about the move, and has blocking indeed been the biggest adjustment?
The quote: "I think [he felt good about the position] in OTAs [organized team activities during the offseason] when they moved me. I still had a lot of experience at receiver, running routes and catching the ball, so once I was able to go against safeties and linebackers, I got kind of excited. It was a whole new thing for me. I started thinking to myself, 'this could really work out well.' At the same time, it was more of a struggle trying to learn the whole blocking aspect of it. I'm working at it every day. I have a lot to work on. During the season it's tough to work on technique perfectly. You can try your best throughout practice, but there's game-planning and other stuff that goes into it during the year. I think this offseason that's really going to be my main focus. That's the main thing I need to work on right now."
The topic: The future
The background:Sterling this season has eight receptions for 69 yards with seven receptions for 59 yards coming in the last two weeks.
The question:You now seem legitimately excited about the position. What does the future hold for you?
The quote:"I'm really excited. This being my first year, just starting off and getting my feet wet – it's been a good experience so far. I've jumped tremendously from when I switched positions until now. I've been working and I feel like I can still get a lot better. It makes me feel good about the future. I just have to make sure my head's straight and I keep working at it. I honestly think the sky's the limit. I work my butt off every day and think I have the opportunity to be a lot better."