Aaron Kampman: Hope on the Horizon
Hearing the Jacksonville Jaguars added a true defensive end in the eight-year veteran Aaron Kampman on Sunday probably registered a few points-to-the-sky or fist pumps. And, rightfully so. During Kampman’s Pro Bowl seasons in 2006 and 2007, he was an elite pass rusher. For 2006, he was second in the NFL in sacks with 15.5 – the San Diego Chargers’ Shawne Merriman was at the top with 17.0. One year later, Kampman was eleventh – mainly behind a pack of rushers with 12.5 (half a sack more than his 12.0).
Seasons like Kampman had in 2006 and 2007 are gone for him, but not forgotten. Those 27.5 sacks have to be part of the reason the Jaguars signed the 30-year-old to a four-year, $26 million contract with $11 million guaranteed. It’s nearly the identical deal former Tennessee Titan Kyle Vanden Bosch received with the Detroit Lions. It is quite a large sum of money to hand over to Kampman with him coming off a major knee injury – a torn left ACL.
When Kampman met with the local media on Monday, some of the questions involved his returning from the 2009 season, which he started nine games, and then missed the rest with the ACL. And, under Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense last year, Kampman moved to outside linebacker instead of his traditional hand-in-the-ground defensive end. After being asked about the change in position, Kampman sighed heavily and answered, “You know, I’ll just say this – I like to go forward.” He also spoke of the differences in watching game film and focusing on wide receivers and tight ends instead of just an offensive tackle.
Most importantly, with Kampman’s signing, the Jaguars addressed the No. 1 need for their team – defensive end. Last year’s defense recorded a league-worst 14 sacks on the opposing quarterback. At head coach Jack Del Rio’s final press conference for the 2009 regular season, he was questioned about whether getting pressure on the quarterback was the No. 1 area of the Jaguars’ defense that needed improvement. Del Rio replied, without much hesitation, “I think our ability to win one-on-ones and affect the quarterback would be number one, yes, in terms of if you’re going to try and rank them. I think it goes hand-in-hand with playing good defense. It doesn’t always have to be a sack but certainly your sack numbers will be respectable if you’re harassing the quarterback a lot.” With Kampman on the Jaguars’ roster, the team has a proven pass rusher and someone to possibly mentor the younger defensive ends.
On Monday, Kampman, an Iowa native and friend of Jaguars center Brad Meester, spoke of what kind of defensive end he has been. “Sometimes, I’m a leverage rusher. I’m a throw-a-fastball, get-in-your-face kind of rusher. I’m not going to try and run around guys.” That was the hope the Jaguars had when the team drafted Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves in 2008 – a get-in-your-face rusher. The two SEC products have 8.0 total sacks in 32 games started. I don’t think the presence of Kampman will make Jaguars fans forget about the shortcomings of Harvey and Groves, but Kampman will slowly become the face of the Jaguars’ defense. With a special confidence and poise, Kampman, on whether he’ll play left or right defensive end, stated, “I look forward to going against some left tackles.”
Over the last four years, Kampman’s sack total has gradually been decreasing. In that time span, it went from 15.5 to 3.5. Question marks are raised. And, in few instances do you hear of players improving once they turn the big 3-0. Kampman was asked if he can make an immediate impact on a young Jaguars’ squad come the 2010 regular season. He calmly said, “I believe the mark of a champion is consistency. And, so, I’ll try to be a guy that is very consistent. I think respect is earned. And, so, you know, I’ll be a guy that is the same guy or try to be the same guy every day. And, I think that can create impact as guys begin to understand who you are and how you go about your business. You know, over time, my experience has been that respect is given, and then you have more of an opportunity to influence.”
In Jacksonville, Kampman is given a new starting ground. For eight seasons, Green Bay was all he ever knew. With the Jaguars, Kampman has a chance to create a new identity for himself and for a defense that has struggled to reclaim its stop-the-run, crush-the-quarterback toughness. Kampman closed his first press conference in Jacksonville by discussing the finer points of how to be a professional. “I learned at any early point in my career that the mind was still the greatest asset on the football field. That coupled with your heart.” Along with Kampman’s heart and mind, he brings hope to a Jaguars’ defense that has suffered the past two seasons.
Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio. Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville at 5:45 p.m. on Wednesdays with The Jacksonville Observer Radio Show.
Richard contributes to Inside the Game with Robin Valetutto every Saturday from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.
Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer. You can e-mail Richard at Richard.Miller@jaxobserver.com.