JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive tackle Malik Jackson had a pretty darn good first season with the Jacksonville Jaguars but he reported to training camp leaner and stronger in the hope he can be even better in 2017.
He nearly made a drastic lifestyle change to do it, too.
"Last year I came in a little heavy," Jackson admitted. "There was a big emphasis on leaning down this year and coming in ready to go from the beginning and not waiting until camp started or the middle of the season [to get into the best shape]. Coach really got on me about that and that was one of the really big things I tried to change.
"Almost went vegan, but no, I didn't go vegan."
Jackson said several close friends have eliminated meat from their diet and tried to convince him to do so as well. He said he seriously considered it, but couldn't make the commitment for one big reason.
"I like my dry-aged steaks," he admitted.
Still, Jackson said he had more chicken and fish than red meat and doubled the amount of green vegetables he ate. He's still roughly the same weight he was last season -- 290 pounds -- but his body fat percentage has dropped and he feels quicker.
It has shown up on the practice field. Jackson is consistently making plays in the backfield and has been hard for interior linemen to handle during one-on-one drills. Head coach Doug Marrone has been pleased with what he's seen.
"He's much stronger than he's been, so he's able to be available and he's out there and he's playing very well for us right now," Marrone said. "He is giving us great, quality snaps from top to bottom. Like I said, we're getting more snaps in the practices than we would in the game so we hope that carries over into the quality of snaps, every single snap, because he was out on the field quite a bit last year in third down. You want to make sure the player is ready to give you the quality in those downs."
Jackson recorded a career-high 6.5 sacks with 33 tackles, a fumble recovery, and three batted passes in his first season with the Jaguars after signing the richest contract in franchise history (six years, $86.1 million, $42 million guaranteed). One thing he didn't do, however, was say much to his teammates on the field.
Jackson said he didn’t feel comfortable doing that as a new player, even though he was coming off a Super Bowl victory with the Denver Broncos.
"I wasn't trying to step on any toes," Jackson said. "This wasn't my team. I just got here. I wanted to learn the playbook and find myself and see who everyone was. It's a little different time for me right now. I take a little more ownership and a little more of a leadership role than I did last year.
"That's pretty much who I am. I like to talk and get everyone riled up. I feel like it brings the best out of me and the other guys. Coach talks about keeping people accountable, as far as players, and that's what I'm doing. And they're keeping me accountable. It's a way to be out there and be vocal and tell everyone the standard and everyone responds in a great way."
The most visible example of Jackson's change was the first padded practice when he started yelling at the offensive linemen during the one-on-one pass-rush drills. He had some colorful words for right tackle Jermey Parnell and rookie left tackle Cam Robinson when he didn't feel they were competing hard enough.
Jackson said he’s being pushed by his defensive line teammates, too, and that is a big reason why this may be one of the best camps of his career.
"We have guys like Mike Bennett and Sheldon Day who are three-techniques [defensive tackles aligned with the outside shoulder of the guard], too, who are doing their thing," Jackson said. "It allows me to not be complacent and keep working. Those guys are pushing me. I'm pushing them. I think it's a good camp. It's only the beginning and I plan on doing better."