If you liked the story done on Maurice Jones-Drew, and you want to learn more about him, check out these pieces of our conversation. Some of this did make the final story, but I wanted to share this with you.
What's been the secret to being so consistent over the last three seasons?
"I really can't tell. I've been playing with the guys in front of me for three years, and that's helped. They know how I run and I know how they block, so our chemistry with that was great, though this past year was pretty tough. We were able to get some things going toward the end, which was cool. Even with a beat-up line, we were able to run the ball toward the end of the season. We started to figure some things out toward the end."
The last three games of the '08 season, you were virtually alone at RB. Other RBs had five other carries combined. How did you treat those last three games?
"It was like an audition to be the starter. They told me this was my chance and that I was the starter now, and I saw it as a great opportunity. Everything that I could do, I did. I think I played 65-to-70 snaps every game so I showed that I had the endurance and that I could go. I felt great and I tried to make the best out of it."
So with Taylor gone, what happens now?
"I'm about to be what I was in high school and college. Things don't change.
"It's funny, everybody thinks that the NFL is the highest level of football, which it is, but as a player, you grow with each level you get into. So when I was in Pop Warner, I wasn't the starter at first because I was just out there running around, bumping into people. And when I was leaving Pop Warner I'd hear, 'He's too small to play high school,' but at the same time I was faster than everybody and the team I was on was winning, we were scoring, I played defense and made All-Pop Warner League, but I still heard those whispers. 'He's too small, it's going to be too fast, there's no weight limit.' So then I go to high school and go on a team that never lost. We went 48-0 in high school, I was all-league, I played every year and it didn't change. But I heard it all again. 'Some guys are good in high school, most guys are bad. So when you go to college, everybody's going to be good. He can't be an every-down back in college because he's going to take too many hits.' So, I get there my rookie year and there are nine running backs, and somehow they either transfer or get injured and I end up starting the last six games and lead the team in rushing. I do that for three years running, but I still hear whispers. 'He's too small. Can he take the pounding all the time? Can he pass block? These guys he'll be going up against are great.' And it's crazy, but -- knock on wood -- if you look at the stats of any running back in the league, they miss games off of injuries because it's a physical position, but I haven't missed one yet. All these analysts, they think they know what's going on, but 99 percent of them haven't played football.
"The game has changed. You have different types of players now," he said. "It's not always these big running backs that are 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds. I mean, the receivers aren't even 6-foot-2 any more. Steve Smith is 5-foot-9. Cornerbacks are smaller, too. It's not about how big you are, it's about who can make plays, period. You could be two feet tall, but if they can't tackle you, give 'em the ball and let 'em run.
"That's what it ends up coming down to. Instead of everybody worrying about this typical size and this player has to be this and if he's not this then he can't take a beating. Actually, I think being smaller is better than being bigger because you're a smaller target. And football is a game of leverage -- the only guy in football who has leverage on me is Darren Sproles. Everybody tries to make excuses because they don't want to eat their own words, but that's what ends up happening when you go out and make statements.
"When they talk about Darren Sproles, it upsets me. This guy has played great. He comes in and wins games, period. He almost single-handedly won the Chargers' game against the Colts! LaDainian Tomlinson is a great running back but you can't deny Sproles for what he did. You can't deny a lot of people for what they do, and that's how it is. You can be Brandon Jacobs, who is 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, and make plays. That's what the league is starting to understand. When I first got here, you had to be 5-foot-10, 215-220 pounds to run the ball and anything smaller than that wasn't going to work."
Do you use this talk about your size as motivation?
"A little bit. That's been one thing, but getting drafted where I got drafted just because of my size, not because of my production, is very upsetting. I use it against every team we play. This next season I'll play the last of the 31 teams that passed on me. That might be the end of that motivation and I'll move on to something else."
Might you feel vindicated when you get paid like Sproles?
"No. It'll never change. My feeling is that your first impression will last a lifetime, and that goes for everybody who thought I couldn't play in the NFL. There's a reason why I went 60th overall, and that includes Jacksonville because they didn't figure I was good enough to go in the first round. That's how I feel. I don't think it'll ever go away. Maybe if I make the Hall of Fame, if I'm ever that lucky, it might. You just always have to have something to drive you.
"I know Sproles is upset because he's such a great running back. It's too bad people think that because his size, he can't be an every-down back. My thing with durability, I don't like that word. There's really been no one in this league who's been durable. If you think about it, every starter has missed games. Quarterbacks, too. It's hard, especially now with the nature of the game -- athletes are more physical. I guess it's the owner's way of not to pay you as much, try and find things to knock you down. They build you up in the draft and tell everybody why they drafted you, and then when it's time to go to contract, they tell everybody why you're not worth that money."
They can't tell you that if you negotiate now though
"Yeah, I guess so."
Do you want something done before the start of the season?
"I definitely would like something done before the start of the season, but it's not up to me. My agent is doing a great job of talking to them and it's up to them. That's what a lot of players have to understand -- all you can do is play and hopefully you stick with the team you started with, otherwise you just play for another team. It's part of the business. You can't take it personal, you just kind of have to go with the flow. That's why the NFL is nicknamed 'Not For Long.'"
How vital is it to the Jags offense that you’re utilized as a receiver out of the backfield often? Do you like that role?
"It's just another way for a defense to spend its time to try and cover me. My running back coach has done a great job with me. It's funny, my running back coach (Kennedy Pola) on the Jaguars recruited me out of high school to go to USC, and he's best friends with the RB coach I had at UCLA (Eric Bienemy). So when I got here, they talked about that all the time.
"Coach Bienemy wanted me to run the ball and routes were secondary and used to help receivers get open downfield. But coach Pola says 'Get open so we can get you the ball!' Doing some stuff with him, working on my routes and getting things right, he taught me how to run receiving routes, it helps a bunch because now if defenses load up eight or nine in the box, they can put me out at wideout. It's been fun, I think it's great.
"I don't think it will go away. I just hope it grows and they become more comfortable with me being out there at wideout and do whatever I can do to help this team win. I'm open for anything right now."
Jacksonville’s picking 8th, and some people out there think you guys need a QB, which is laughable. What do you see as the club’s biggest need with the pick?
"I don't know if we have any left tackles on our roster right now. Barnes is a free agent and our other tackle is the one who got shot. You never know. It depends on how they feel. I know this -- they want to pick the best character and talent guy at that pick."
You follow UCLA football? What can you tell me about Kahlil Bell?
"Kahlil played with me. I think he's a hard runner, he can catch, and from what I remember, he's a guy who wants to go out there and play. He loves the game. So hopefully he gets to a team where they're going to give him an opportunity because he'll make the best of it. He had some tough years -- he got cut from UCLA for a minute and has gotten hurt. He'll have to learn to play through the injuries, that's one thing you have to do in the NFL. A lot of guys don't do it, but you can't be like everybody else."
Didn't you have a sprained knee in that last game of the year against the Ravens?
"Sure did. I tell you, you gotta play the game. It's just like any job -- if you get sick of the job, you're still going to go to work unless you're real, real sick. So with footbal, you're going to play unless you're real, real hurt. That's how I see it. Your body will heal and you'll be all right if you do the right things, and if you don't, you won't."
How would you feel if the Jaguars brought in another running back to split time with you in 2009?
"It would tell me that they don't believe (in me), but there's nothing I can do about it. All I can do is go out there and play as hard as I can and show them that I work hard and I'm willing to do it. If you feel I'm not ready, that's your opinion and I'll just do what you ask. I really don't try to cause any commotion about those things."
Anything else you want people out there to know about you or your game?
"I'm a man at ease off the field. On the field, I kind of play like a man with his hair on fire. Two different personalities, I guess. I don't know how it happened, I guess something clicks right before a game and I just turn into somebody totally different, and then when a game is over, I kind of come back to peace."