JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Prior to the 2010 NFL Draft in April, Austen Lane figured he’d be drafted by one of 32 NFL teams, the question was where.
Seven months later, the Iola native has his feet firmly planted in the Sunshine State as a rookie defensive end for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 6-foot-5-inch, 274-pound lineman who starred for Murray State University following a stellar high school career at Iola-Scandinavia High School, recently discussed the transition from the cold weather of Wisconsin to the warmth of the south, as well as the shift from college football to life as a big-time NFL player.
Lane has played in three games and made his first career start in week eight at Dallas, where he had three tackles, one tackle for loss and two quarterback hits in a season-high 27 snaps in the Jaguars’ 35-17 win over the Cowboys.
“That stadium was unreal,” Lane said about playing in the new Cowboys Stadium. “Actually, upon entering the locker room and how that was set up, one could only figure how big the stadium was.”
The fifth-round pick and one of three defensive linemen selected by the Jaguars said he’s finding his way around his new city quite nicely and is enjoying living so close to Jacksonville Beach.
“Even though I grew up around some nice lakes in Wisconsin, nothing compares to living near the beach,” Lane said about living only eight miles from the beach. “The opportunity to be so close and enjoy walks and light running on the sand is great. I guess it provides a new sense of serenity.”
Injuries slowed Lane’s progress at the beginning of organized team activities, but he said his conditioning and overall training regiment has helped with the rigors of adjusting to life as a professional athlete.
“Things started slowly after dealing with a hamstring problem during OTAs,” he said. “However, things picked up and I had a strong preseason. Now I’m just competing for more playing time.”
The first-year pro who started 40 of 43 games in college, holds school records with 29 sacks and 55 tackles for loss and became the first player in Murray State history with 10-plus sacks and 20-plus tackles for loss in two different seasons, said the jump from college to the pro ranks is very noticeable.
“In college, I was able to get by with my power and speed, but now you find that everyone is big or just as strong and even faster,” Lane said. “That’s where film study and working on techniques is so valuable. Right now, I’m working with some of the veterans and just trying to learn as much as possible. Sort of like a sponge soaking it all in.”
Work ethic and skill set are two of the traits Jaguars general manager and senior vice president of player personnel Gene Smith envisioned when he tabbed Lane in the fifth round.
“Austen is a rugged, hard-charging and effort-filled left defensive end type,” he said. “He’s shown the ability to play the hard flow run and he’s starting to stress the offensive tackles more as a pass rusher.”
Lane lists former Green Bay Packer and current Jaguar teammate Aaron Kampman as an instrumental figure in learning the ropes of rushing the passer and the nuances of being a professional.
“I grew up watching him play and now it’s an awesome feeling just learning from him,” Lane said. “It’s not only been on the field, but in film study, too. He’s always there to answer questions or help out wherever needed. Jeremy Mincey has been very helpful as well. I feel I’m more prepared now than ever before. Now, it’s just a matter of being ready when my number is called.”
The work put in by Lane hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“His snap anticipation has improved and he’s doing a better job of stepping out instead of up off on ball movement,” Smith said. “The one thing Austen has done naturally is counter back once he starts to get deeper than ball depth and for a left end, that is a key to get into the quarterbacks’ throwing lanes.”
Lane’s urgency for development and the chance his No. 92 will be called may come more sooner than later with the recent news that Kampman is lost for the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL, the same injury that ended his final year in Green Bay.
“You play the next guy,” coach Jack Del Rio said after learning of the injury and not wanting to designate who that player will be. “It produces an opportunity for somebody to play more. We’ve gone heavy at defensive line all year.”
Rookies Larry Hart and Lane are likely to experience the greatest increase in playing time. Lane will allow third-year veteran Derrick Harvey, who lost his starting job earlier this season, to move to Kampman’s right end position, the blindside pass-rush spot. Hart is likely to be used mostly in pass-rush situations, while Lane should see the bevy of snaps on early downs.]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Horace Davis is sports editor of Clay Today in Fleming Island, Fla.