Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lost and Found; Hayward Ready to Contribute after Injury-Plagued Seasons

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Lost and Found; Hayward Ready to Contribute after Injury-Plagued Seasons

Article excerpt

Byline: VITO STELLINO

The Jaguars spent a lot of time and treasure in the offseason working to improve a pass defense that ranked 15th in the NFL last season.

They revamped the defensive coaching staff, gave cornerback Drayton Florence a six-year, $36 million contract, moved Brian Williams to safety and spent five draft picks to trade up to draft pass-rushers Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves, who will make their debut at the team's organized team activities today. And they locked up defensive tackle Rob Meier to a long-term contract.

On top of all that, there's one more development that could help their pass defense.

Reggie Hayward, 29, hampered by injuries the past two seasons, says he's back to full strength.

After playing his first four seasons for Denver, Hayward was signed to a five-year, $25 million contract before the 2005 season, and lived up to expectations when he led the Jaguars with 8.5 sacks.

But he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in the 2006 season opener against Dallas and hasn't been the same since.

He missed the rest of the 2006 season and struggled last season when he was still recovering from the injury. He wound up with just 3.5 sacks. He also suffered a groin injury in December that knocked him out for three games, and he didn't start in the two playoff games.

He thinks his frustrating days are in the past. "It's hard to play great football when you know your body isn't where you want it to be," Hayward said. "That weighed on me a little last year. I don't have to worry about it this year."

Hayward said he can tell the difference after a second offseason gave him more time to heal.

"It's feeling a lot better," he said. "I've got a lot more speed. I've got my feet back under me."

The fact that he feels better physically has helped his mental state. "Football is 90 percent mental," Hayward said. "I'm looking for a great season."

Hayward said he won't be satisfied just to return to his old form.

"I'm going to strive to get better than I've ever been,'' he said. "I'm not settling for just [being] the old Reggie.''

Coach Jack Del Rio said he noticed the difference during the first OTA on Tuesday and told Hayward that while the team was warming up for the second one on Thursday.

"I told him that he moved better Tuesday than he has in the past year. He's putting his time in, working out and working hard, and it shows. He's regained a little bit of that quickness that you have to have to play at a high level," Del Rio said.

Del Rio also stressed it's not possible to tell how Hayward will look once they put the pads on in training camp.

"It's awfully early," he said. "I think all players, once you have something [a major injury] happen, you have to work hard to approach what you were as a young man. Certainly you have no chance if you don't put in the time. …

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