Devin Lloyd opens up on his ‘growing pains’ in difficult first NFL season with Jacksonville Jaguars, how Trevor Lawrence leaves him ‘in awe’… and the challenge of facing Patrick Mahomes
When Devin Lloyd is asked a question, he thinks deeply and provides a thoughtful answer. And he has had plenty to process from his rookie season.
A first round draft pick, he suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, losing his starting place as the Jacksonville Jaguars went from no-hopers to the divisional round.
Lloyd entered the NFL under the weight of expectation. He came out of Utah as a hard-hitting, heat seeking missile as the Jaguars traded back to take the second linebacker off the board with the No 27 overall pick in last year’s draft.
‘There was a lot of pressure and expectation for me, especially being a first-round pick. It started right away. Going into the NFL, I was really kind of blinded by the expectations just because I wanted to be the best that I could be for everyone around me,’ Lloyd told Mail Sport on a recent visit to England.
Uneven preparation – Lloyd was playing catch up in the offseason due to several injuries – resulted in an undulating campaign.
Devin Lloyd is content with his rookie season but preparing for a bigger one in Jacksonville
Lloyd had a bright start to his rookie season before losing the starting LB job to Chad Muma
Lloyd admits he had some ‘growing pains’ as he adjusted to the demands of the NFL
By his third week he earned NFL defensive rookie of the month honors, but would lose the starting role alongside Foyesade Oluokun to fellow rookie Chad Muma.
‘And then I started off good. But then when things aren’t going as good then you kind of feel that pressure. You feel that expectation. And it’s understanding how to handle that as well.
‘There were a lot of great moments, a lot of growing pains as well,’ Lloyd adds. ‘Obviously, being my first year you’re gonna go through some growing pains, but I think it was overall a great experience, so I can look back on that feeling good about what happened.
‘But also understanding there’s a lot of areas of growth. And I think I’ve attacked so far everything that I needed to up to this point to improve and to continue to take that step forward for next year.
‘The way I look at it, it’s a 25-week season: preseason, the regular season and then the postseason. It’s like double the amount of football you’re playing in college. And so physically I was not completely aware of that going into training camp and going into the season. So my offseason last year was just, I just went for it. I was attacking full go. I went hard.
‘But this year I understand now that you can’t necessarily do that because your body can only take so much beating for a year. It’s a battle. Football is a battle, a physical battle and a mental battle as well.
‘Physically you have to prepare your body for the season. Treat the offseason as if it was the regular season, you’re preparing your body for the season. So I’ve grasped that concept completely now. And along with the physical side of it as well just really mastering my mind was really what I accomplished this offseason.
‘There’s so much that goes with that – obviously spiritually. You have to have your faith in the right place. But then overcoming adversity, overcoming obstacles, understanding how to see the right plays.
The former University of Utah standout played 926 snaps at linebacker during the 2022 season
Lloyd believes the experience of his first season will help him kick on with the Jaguars this year
‘To continue to live in a moment and love every moment of what you’re doing, fully grasping the mental side of the game because this is a league that will spit you out – it’s ruthless – so really you’ve got to understand how to move quickly, but also to really know your worth, know who you are as a player and just be yourself.
‘Truthfully, you know there’s so much joy in playing this game that I love and so there’s a lot of hardships and a lot of adversity – but you have to focus on nothing but the love of the game that you have.’
And after Lloyd logged 926 snaps at linebacker last season, he was not used as a pass rusher. But he expects that to change as he moves into the second year in defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell’s scheme.
‘I believe so, yes! I believe so,’ he says.
After the Jags sank to a demoralizing defeat by the dismal Denver Broncos at Wembley, it looked to all and sundry as if their season was over.
But 2-6 became 4-8 and five consecutive wins saw the Jags win the AFC South for only the second time in franchise history.
‘You know, I think everyone was just tired of losing,’ Lloyd says when asked what he attributed the turnaround to.
‘And understand the challenge we have and all that we accomplished. We just kept falling just barely short in so many games. I think we really just – I don’t really want to say it was a major shift or anything what we were doing – but the execution was a lot better at throughout the year following that game. It was a total buy in from the team.’
Much of that can be attributed to the pairing of Doug Pederson and Trevor Lawrence. After the disastrous reign of Urban Meyer, the Jags turned to Super Bowl-winning head coach to add some much-needed stability, savvy and experience.
During an exclusive interview with Mail Sport, Lloyd hailed the influence of HC Doug Pederson
He also spoke glowingly of Trevor Lawrence and how he leaves him ‘in awe’ in practice
‘I’m really grateful to have him as a coach,’ says Lloyd. ‘Obviously not just because of the coach he is, but the person is more important than anything, especially today, but really just being a good person is so important.
‘And so on top of his knowledge of the game, I think he’s just going to continue to make everybody around him better. And continue to expand everyone’s knowledge.’
And if Lloyd is looking for inspiration as he enters his second year as a pro, he does not have too far to look.
The Jaguars drafted Lawrence with the No 1 overall pick in the 2021 draft, but his first season was blighted by off-field chaos, centering around Meyer’s miserable tenure.
But Lawrence roared back. In 17 starts last season, he completed 387 of 584 passes for 4,113 yards and 25 touchdowns, leading the Jags to their first playoff win in five years.
It did not take Lloyd long to realize that his team-mate was something special.
‘I just remember last year, when I first went against him during OTAs, just his ability to throw the ball is ridiculous. He can put the ball anywhere he wants. He’s obviously a very savvy player, but he can throw a 60 on the dot with ease.
‘And I remember seeing some of the balls he threw last year and just kind of being in awe. Obviously I understand that now and it’s kind of like I expect that, but when I first saw that in person, I said to myself, he definitely looks like a No 1 overall pick.’
The Jaguars’ No. 33 is hoping the Jags can go one better against the Chiefs in the Week 3 game
After a miraculous comeback against the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild card round, the Jags would lose against the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs.
Lloyd and the Jags will face Patrick Mahomes again in week three, before they fly across the Atlantic for next month’s London double-header against the Atlanta Falcons at Wembley and Buffalo Bills at Tottenham.
‘It’s always fun going Against the great competitors just because they teach you so much. They do things that other guys don’t do. And You don’t typically see so you’ll see something. And you’ll go “Oh, that can happen”. And that improves your game. You’ll be better prepared for that. I love a challenge – and he is definitely a challenge.’