Jaguars are lightening Calais Campbell's load to keep him fresh

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Calais Campbell goes back and forth between anger and understanding.

The Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end doesn’t like the idea of not participating in every possible rep during practice, and he’s certainly not happy about playing fewer snaps in games. He knows, however, that both of those things are definitely in his -- and the Jaguars’ -- best interests in 2019.

But, again, he’s not a fan.

“It’s tough because I like to be the hardest-working person on the field,” Campbell said. “That’s kind of been my M.O. the majority of my career, and so when you know you’re taking reps off and you’re not getting as much, you’re not the hardest-working person on the field at all, so it’s a balance. But I also know that you only get so much tread on your tires and so I have to be smart and take advantage of allowing my body to adjust slowly. I can’t just go out here and act like I’m 25 again, you know?

“But it’s a balance, so I got to push myself and work as hard as I can, but also take care of my body as much as I can, too.”

The move is a concession to Campbell’s age (he turned 33 on Saturday) but also is designed to ensure his body feels as good as possible late in the season. The Jaguars don’t want a repeat of what happened the past two years.

Campbell played a career-high 947 snaps in 2017, when the Jaguars made their surprising run to the AFC Championship Game. He posted a career-high 14.5 sacks but had only three in the final six games of the regular season. He had none in three playoff games and was hampered by a shoulder injury in the AFC title-game loss to New England.

Campbell played 771 snaps last season, which is amazing considering he dealt with injuries to his knees, ankles, hand and lower back -- sometimes multiple problems at the same time. Nonetheless, he never missed a game and led the team in sacks (10.5) and tackles for loss (20) and was second with 22 quarterback hits.

Campbell has played at least 726 snaps every year since 2009 and has surpassed 900 snaps three times. He has missed only six regular-season games in 11 seasons and hasn’t missed one since 2014. That kind of workload and longevity at defensive end is certainly impressive, but it also takes a toll and at 33 years old, both he and the Jaguars know it is a pace that needs to change.

So Campbell found himself getting fewer reps in some individual drills and at times wasn’t on the field as often as in the past in 11-on-11 work in training camp. It helped that he’s not having to learn a new system and that the starting defensive front is the same as it was last season.

“He wants to be out there competing, but at the same time, he knows what’s best for him,” defensive coordinator Todd Wash said. “And the same thing, the communication is big between him, myself, [head coach] Doug [Marrone] and [defensive line coach] Jason [Rebrovich] to make sure he’s in on the plays he needs to be in on, and that he doesn’t need to be in on the other stuff that he’s done a million times.”

What also helps is the Jaguars are better equipped to give Campbell more plays off during games than they were the past two seasons. The team drafted defensive end Josh Allen third overall, and while Wash will move Allen around to take advantage of his athleticism and speed, he also could line up at strongside end on early downs to give Campbell a breather. Also, third-year defensive end Dawuane Smoot has finally started to emerge as a reliable player.

The hope is the lighter load in camp and practice and careful monitoring of Campbell’s snap count will keep him healthier and fresher for a December playoff push -- and for a possible playoff run.

“The longer you get in the league, we understand the most important thing is we have to get you to Sunday,” Wash said. “And I think every coach in the league does that, so we’re going to manage some of the guys that are a little bit older and make sure that he’s fresh when he gets to game day, because we all know if he’s fresh, he can be a difference-maker for us.”