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Walker worthy of opponents' focus


Gary Walker was back on his Georgia farm, enjoying a simpler life of dawn-to-dusk farm chores, as his body recovered from a season seemingly dedicated to playing hurt.

"This was probably one of the most testing seasons I've ever had because of the injuries: knee, groin, hamstring, ankle, shoulder," Walker said, reading off a list of hurts that made the 2000 season an endurance test.

In 2000, Walker found himself having to pay the price for his 1999 success. After a season in which Walker had a career-high 10 sacks, he became the Jaguars defensive lineman opponents loved to double-team. His sacks were down in 2000, but in every other way his performance was just as strong.

"People might say he didn't have the same season, but I think my season overall was better because I was more disruptive. I didn't have the sacks, but I believe I had better pressure this year," said Walker, who is Jaguars Inside Report's Defensive Player of the Year.

Walker was the defense's most consistent and inspirational player. He played on a knee injury that would've sidelined most players for a month. In the process, Walker also established himself as a team leader.

In the midst of a five-game losing streak that collapsed the Jaguars' playoff hopes in October, Walker spoke out about the need to have fun playing football. His words were repeated by his teammates the rest of the season, especially during a four-game winning streak in the second half of the season.

"I want to get more out of the game than just football. I want to be a solid player and earn my money, but when it starts to be more of a business than a game, I'm going to leave it. On Sunday, that's supposed to be fun," Walker said as he tended to his farm chores.

Two weeks after the season had ended, the Jaguars' 7-9 record was as painful as the leftover assortment of aches and pains. The 2000 season was a disappointment for everyone.

"The injuries slowed him down a little bit, but you could see there were some real good things he did," defensive line coach John Pease said of Walker. "Last year (1999), he got free because he got single (blocks). This year he got a lot more doubles."

It is the greatest form of respect that can be paid to a defensive lineman. In 2000, Walker was identified by opponents as the Jaguars' best down defender.

Along the way, he turned in dominant performances against Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Tennessee. In the Oct. 1 loss to Pittsburgh, Walker suffered a knee injury late in the game that left him on crutches and he was not in the starting lineup the following Sunday against Baltimore, however, he played 46 of 66 plays in that defensive struggle and made four tackles and four quarterback pressures. His streak of 44 consecutive starts ended.

Three weeks later, his knee left him inactive for the Jaguars' game in Dallas, snapping Walker's streak of 47 consecutive games played and marking only the third game he had ever missed in his six-year career.

"We were very good (against the run) at the end of the year," Pease said. "He's a real good combination. He can stop the run and get to the quarterback.

"He gives us a real active inside player; a guy who can create some havoc," Pease said.

In 2000, Walker fought his way through double-team blocks and injuries to play in 15 games, make five sacks, seven tackles for loss, a team-high 20 quarterback pressures, two forced fumbles and two passes-defensed. He was consistent from the start of the season until its conclusion, on a team whose season was compromised by a lack of consistency.

"I'm fulfilling my dream," he said of playing in the NFL. "When I look back, I don't want to say, 'If I had done this or if I had done that it would've been different.' The last two years in Jacksonville have been good years."

Defensive Player of the Year

2000--Gary Walker

1999--Aaron Beasley

1998--Kevin Hardy

1997--Jeff Lageman

1996--John Jurkovic

1995--Harry Colon

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