JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Josh Allen thought for a moment, then came up with the word he wanted to use to describe the way he’s feeling these days:
He feels just like he did as a rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019: wide-eyed, excited, and eager to start his professional career. He’s all of that again because of the enthusiasm surrounding new coach Urban Meyer and the Jaguars’ impending selection of a quarterback with the first overall pick later this month.
He’s also ready to erase probably the most disappointing season in his football life.
“It’s just a different environment, different vibe, like I just feel about this team and this year and this coaching staff,” Allen said. “It’s just I feel like I really haven’t felt this passion and this driven [since] I first got here. When I first got here I was all-in, I was ready, and then stepping back to this year, man, it’s just another … rejuvenation.”
He’s not the only one who feels that way around the franchise and the city. Season-ticket sales are eight times what they were at this point last year (obviously the pandemic played a large role in that) and Jaguars fans on social media raised roughly $7,000 last week to purchase a couple of wedding gifts for former Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence -- the expected pick on April 29 -- and to donate to whichever charity Lawrence chose.
Allen’s enthusiasm is particularly intense because of two main changes: The addition of Meyer and the position change from a 4-3 defensive end to a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Allen’s final season at Kentucky was also Meyer’s final season at Ohio State, so he is familiar with the way Meyer dominated the Big Ten, going 83-9, winning three conference titles, and winning the 2014 national title in seven seasons with the Buckeyes. Meyer also won two SEC championships and two national championships in six seasons at Florida, so Allen sees a coach who knows how to win, something that has happened only seven times in Allen’s first two seasons with the Jaguars.
“The name has always stood out as one of the best coaches in college football in recent years, for him being at Ohio State and him coaching at Florida,” Allen said. “So ... I always knew who he was and just having him as a coach, realizing he’s about to be my next head coach, it was kind of surreal for a little moment.
“When I did meet him it was like we took two or three days to get familiar with each other and now I feel like I’ve known him over a year or two years now. We’re building a connection and it’s not just with me. He’s building a connection with everybody throughout the locker room and throughout the building just in general.”
The move to a 3-4 defense under new coordinator Joe Cullen really has Allen’s energy up, football-wise. Allen played as an outside linebacker/end hybrid at Kentucky and had a lot of success in that role. He was the SEC’s Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-American in 2018 after he racked up 17 sacks, five forced fumbles and 21.5 tackles for loss.
The Jaguars selected him seventh overall and played him as a 4-3 end. He had 10.5 sacks as a rookie playing with Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue and made the Pro Bowl, but had a disappointing 2020 and is ready to return to the position at which he thrived.
“I was screaming it to my wife when we found out [the Jaguars were switching to a 3-4],” Allen said. “That’s the reason why I’m here [in the NFL] and then transitioning to play defensive end my first and second year was a transition, but it was a transition that I was willing to make and that I had to make and that I felt like I could make at the time.
“But now being able to go back to those roots that really got me here, I can really get more swag out there. In my terms, I feel like have more swag. I feel like I can move around more. I feel like I can be more active in the front.”
Allen struggled through last season, as did pretty much the entire defense. He battled a knee injury, recorded just 2.5 sacks, and ended up on injured reserve. He played eight games and had 13 total tackles.
He believes the injury and lack of production is related to the virtual offseason teams had because of the pandemic. He didn’t like the way he tried to get ready and he said he paid for it by missing those eight games -- the first time he’s missed a game at any level, he said.
“I felt like coming into the season I didn’t prepare myself, because I was so confused on how or what to do because I didn’t want to get sick,” Allen said. “I had a gym at my house [and] I was still working out, but I wasn’t getting in to the shape that I needed to be in.
“So [in] preparation this year, [I'm] grinding out right now, trying to get my diet right, trying to eat the right foods that I need, and trying to maintain and trying to take care of my body because it is going to be a long season.”
One that he can’t wait to begin.