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View from the O-Zone: Already special


JACKSONVILLE – The guy is different. That much we know already.

It's not fair to say we learned that about Jalen Ramsey Sunday, nor is it even fair to say we learned it in the last few weeks. We've seen it nearly every day since last spring.

"We've always known that Jalen's going to be special," Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash said this week.

That's fair to say about Ramsey and so is this:

He's pretty much as good as is possible as a rookie and he's much better much sooner than you have the right to expect – yes, even a rookie selected No. 5 overall in the NFL Draft. And he very definitely appears on his way to being elite sooner rather than later.

Maybe a lot sooner.

"He's going to be as good as he wants to be," Jaguars defensive tackle Roy Miller III said.

That's obvious five games into his NFL career. It's obvious, too, the rookie corner is becoming the star, young player on a defense that is rapidly improving around him. If there's a reason for optimism for this team right now it's wrapped up somewhere in that previous sentence.

The defense looks good. Ramsey looks really, really good.

Maybe – just maybe – the Jaguars have something there. Something real. Something permanent. Something that can be consistent. Something that can be relied upon. Something that can build its way into reaching a championship level. That's how it's starting to feel.

Is Ramsey the defense's leader? Is he the identity?

It's early to say that, but it's no longer too early say he's really good. It's not too early to say he's going to be elite, either. He's headed there quickly – and the most-accomplished veterans in the Jaguars' locker room know it.

"I understand that his future here is a lot longer than mine," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "It's his team in a sense."

Indeed, when veterans look at Ramsey, they see a unique player with a combination of talent, desire, maturity and mindset. And when they speak of Ramsey …

Well, when they do that, they do so in way uncommon when veterans speak of rookies.

"I don't mean to talk him up too early, but I think he can be very special in the NFL," Miller said. "It's crazy because it's just his first year. He's developing throughout the process and he's keeping his confidence high."

The Jaguars and everyone watching saw that Sunday. In a performance that had the feel of the first flashpoint memory in a memorable career, Ramsey for the first time in the NFL shadowed an elite receiver. He allowed Alshon Jeffery six receptions for 90 yards in a first half in which the rookie looked very much like a rookie.

Ramsey allowed Jeffery one reception for three yards in the second half. He also made a big-time break on Bears quarterback Bryan Hoyer's final pass and cut in front of Jeffery for a game-ending pass deflection.

He didn't look like a rookie in that half.

In fact, he looked very much like an elite-level veteran – and more important to his veteran teammates, he acted like an elite-level veteran.

"The man has a strong will," Miller said. "I've seen him cover the best guys in a short amount of time. A lot of guys in the NFL don't have the mental strength to be able to compete consistently at that level. When you look at some older guys and wonder why they fall off I think their minds fall before their bodies.

"He [Ramsey] has a lot of confidence and a lot of athleticism. It's dangerous to have both. Quarterbacks start looking the other way. Receivers start getting frustrated. As the games go on, you see that."

Let's not underplay how rare it is what Ramsey is doing. Yes, he was hyped as perhaps the best player in last April's Draft, and as Amukamara said "his talent comes once every 10 years." But we hear that every year about high draft selections. Sometimes they make immediate impact. Far more often it takes time – sometimes, a lot of time. Sometimes, it never happens.

How good is Ramsey? Enough that veterans don't mind his cocky on- and off-field demeanor. One reason, as Amukamara said, is nothing he has said has been detrimental to the team. Another is they see the person behind the words every day.

"He's all about ball and he's all about 'me-versus-the-guy-in-front-of-me,''' Miller said. "As a defense, you've got to like a guy who's willing to say, 'I want the best receiver.' He wants any kind of challenge."

Then, of course, there's the biggest reason …

"When you play good you get a little longer leash to say and do a lot of stuff," Amukamara said.

Yes, when you play like Ramsey you can say a little more, because the kid is growing – almost faster than the eye can see. So, keep your eyes open in the coming weeks, because what you're seeing is special. And rare.

How good will he be? Time will tell, but he has a once-in-a-generation, franchise-changing feel.

Indeed, the guy is special. That much we know already.

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