A breakout season after six years in the NFL?
That’s exactly what happened with Jason Babin of the Tennessee Titans in 2010. From the high of being drafted in the 1st round to the low of being traded and released years later, Babin credits much of his recent success to former Titans Coach Jim Washburn who let Babin play his game and it led to a monster season.
Not only does Babin excel at football, but he also owns a ranch down in Texas where he spends time doing all sorts of outdoor stuff and, interestingly enough, he spends time training out in the wilderness. I got to talk with Jason about the journey to the Year 7 breakout, whether he’d consider joining Coach Washburn in Philly, and about his unique offseason training regime.
Steve Wyremski (SW): I see that you’re keeping busy through the extended offseason with lockout. It looks like you were out in Alaska hunting and fishing. I heard you even killed a bear out there. How’s all that going?
Jason Babin (JB): It’s kind of a double edged sword not having a CBA and OTAs. Out in Alaska, I did some fishing and sightseeing. I like to take a lot of pictures. I got some big lenses, so I got some great outdoor photos. It’s not too much different than usual; it’s just minus the OTAs. I’m looking forward to my boys getting a little older so I can take them up there.
SW: I see you’re training using what you call the “Wilderness Man Workout”. What’s that all about?
JB: Well we were there in the Green Rocks Lodge and there were some weight rooms. There’s barely water to shower with unless it rains enough. What we did is we just took some stuff they had there. They had a big deck and we did some pull-ups, some old boats that were broken we used for some presses, some big logs that you pick up and carry, or we threw some extra stuff in our pack and hiked up this mountainside. We just got creative and used what we had to work with. [It’s] something to break up the monotony of hunting all day.
SW: You also have the Babin Ranch down in Texas where I know you spend a lot of your time, as well. Tell me a bit about that.
JB: It’s kind of evolved. It’s a piece of property that I originally bought as an investment and now we have a pretty big stock of animals. It’s a place to do some guy projects. We put in a lake, built a big pier on the lake, and it’s just some fun stuff to do and be a normal person. [It’s a place] to be my own person.
SW: I want to go to the field for a little bit. You were drafted by the Texans in the first round of the ’04 NFL draft. You went on to start 16 games your rookie season as an outside linebacker. Then, in your other two seasons with the Texans, you didn’t play much. You were traded to the Seahawks and then jumped around to a number of other teams playing mostly DE. You seem to be more comfortable at DE, especially given your 2010 Pro Bowl. Why is that?
JB: You’ve got to look at a couple of factors. One is the reason I was drafted was because I put my hand in the dirt, rushed the quarterback, and made tackles & plays. Then you take a team like Houston and they put me in a position where I really hadn’t done much. There was a little bit of playing out of position that factored in. Then when you follow the favor in the NFL in the eyes of the coach’s media (i.e., Houston) and you don’t get an opportunity, it took me how many years to be a starter again? It took three years of scratching and clawing. I definitely wanted to make it worth my while once I got the opportunity this past year in Tennessee.
SW: You started the 16 games your rookie season, then you had a period when you weren’t starting many games or getting many snaps. Then last year, you’re back starting 16 games. Is the biggest difference in those years opportunity?
JB: Yeah, you understand the NFL is also a big business. When you got a lot invested in a player, they’re going to get the opportunity nine times out of 10. It took a guy like Jim Washburn to see what I could do despite what people said in the past when I played outside linebacker. He gave me the opportunity to prove it. It’s unfortunate. I think my situation is kind of rare being that I was a first round pick and I really never was given the opportunity to play defensive end in a starting role until six years later. It’s made me who I am today on and off the field. It makes me work that much harder football-wise, but it also made me a better person, better father, [and] better husband off the field.
SW: You mention Jim Washburn. How big of an impact did he have on your 2010 season? Did he change anything in your preparation or technique?
JB: Really it was just his personality. The way he coaches isn’t that far from the way I used to do things in college. He really saw a lot in me and we just really meshed.
SW: You also mentioned your rareness of being a first round pick and not really getting an opportunity to play your specific position, but we’ve spoken to other players who were traded, released, and played with several other teams. You take DE Lawrence Jackson of the Lions who was drafted in the first round by the Seahawks back in ‘08 and, like you, was traded a few years later. He really didn’t play much again until last season with the Lions. What he said about being traded was that it was devastating and can potentially destroy a young player’s confidence. What are your thoughts on how your trade to the Seahawks impacted your confidence?
JB: I definitely had an impasse with Mr. Kubiak. When he came in, it went back to 4-3 and I was very excited. I said, “will I get an opportunity at the starting job this year?” He said without a doubt. He told me that to my face, man-to-man. For whatever reason, he didn’t feel I earned the starting job and I got some limited time at DE. That’s his decision and I respect it. Come end of the season when all the dust cleared, I don’t know if [Anthony Weaver] got a sack at all and Mario [Williams] had one [Writer’s note: Williams had 4.5 sacks according to the season’s statistics, but Jason still outperformed him statistically]. I played limited time and obviously took all the clean up reps in blow out games, so there’s a little bit of those reps in there, but I had more sacks and more QB pressures than those guys. Some games I wasn’t even active.
The following year I said, “Am I going to get a chance to start?” I think he really felt my frustration and where I was at. I said, “I really think I’m a starter and can be a contributor in a full time capacity.” He said, “No, you’re not going to be a starter.” This was before things started and preseason got underway. Camp had just started. I was upset by that because the prior year he’d told me I was in a competition and I outperformed and now it was going to be [my] role again. I said you can either cut me or trade me. I knew at some point one or the other was going to happen.
My situation with bouncing around is partially because I believe in my abilities. It might be misconstrued in the wrong way. I’m always respectful, always working my ass off in the weight room, or on the field in practice and try to outwork everybody. Sometimes it’s taken the wrong way.
SW: When you’re at those other teams or in the situation with Coach Kubiak in Houston, are you vocal about your displeasure in not seeing the time?
JB: I wouldn’t say so much that I voiced it. [It was] nothing like, “Hey, let me play” or anything. I proved in how I practiced and how I played in preseason. Every preseason I proved my ability outperforming most everybody in the NFL all these years I’ve been trying to get a starting role. I might say something in passing or sarcastic manner, but not in front of other people. That’s just my personality. It was clear how I felt, but I wasn’t trying to be a cancer to the team and bring it up to the players or talk about it in the media or anything like that.
SW: [Explain PFF]. When you got to the Titans in 2010, you obviously had a career season. You finished with 14 sacks which ranked you top among 4-3 DEs. We at PFF rated a +25.1 and that translates into the No. 10 overall 4-3 DE in the league. It seems like something clicked for you in 2010. What was the biggest difference between 2010 and your prior seasons?
JB: I’ve always felt like I had this ability. I never felt like I’ve been able to let it out. It just felt natural and everything was right. I could be myself and play how I want to play. I’m sure I got some penalties that were viewed [as] over-the-top, but it’s an emotional game. I let it all out every play and every game. To me this has been my favorite season of my entire career. Not so much because I excelled. It just felt right. If I didn’t have as many sacks, I think I would have felt the same way.
SW: In addition to the 14 sacks, you had 20 hits on the quarterback. It seemed like you were just turned loose last year.
JB: The thing about the defensive scheme we had last year with Washburn and Chuck Cecil is that they were really smart about what they did. A lot of defensive coaches say, “This is our defense, this is how were playing, and this is what we’re doing exactly.” Well, there’s injuries, change in personnel, and different people so everything has to be curtailed to what you have to work with. Those guys did an amazing job of saying, “these are the tools we have and weapons we have … what’s the best way we can use them.” They don’t have a cookie cutter scheme. They looked at what guys did well and let them excel at it.
SW: If we look at your games in detail in 2010, two of your three top games according to our rankings ironically enough came against the Texans. Is that more than a coincidence?
JB: [Laughs]. I think I might have played a little more than I usually did [in those games] because I had a little more juice in the tank for whatever reason. It probably would be the more opportunities that would be the major factor.
I also got the opportunity to go in on the kneel down when we beat the Texans and I got to do my little signature sack pose behind the quarterback. I don’t think Gary [Kubiak] liked that either. I tried to run over by him, but got ushered away.
SW: Looking at the snap numbers, you’re right. They were up in the 50’s. There was only one other game where you were up around that number in 2010. Those do look like your high snap games.
JB: We also had to deal with a number of injuries then too. There were a few less DEs available one of the games, I think. That’s the other thing that Coach Wash really taught me that I had never really put to use. We’re going to have a number of guys rotating and not get a ton of snaps. It’s staying fresh that really helped me. Yeah, could have I played more snaps? Yeah, but maybe I might not have been as effective. So, I just got less snaps at a higher rate. That worked well for us too.
SW: On the flip side, we rank your Week 13 game against the Jaguars as the roughest game of the year. Do you agree with that?
JB: Absolutely. That game kind of bothers me to this day. There was a lot of arguing and a lot of things going on on the sidelines that game because they kept doing the same thing over and over. They were putting the onus of tackling on our secondary and using some of their big guys to block us. It felt like defensive line wise, we were coming in out of position on a lot of those plays. It was a real frustrating game. We felt like it was something else, but the guys in charge said otherwise.
SW: The knock on you for much of your early career was that you struggled against the run. In 2010, we ranked you 8th against the run among 4-3 DEs. Clearly, you changed that perception. From the run defense side of the ball, what changed?
JB: It was not being outside linebacker. It was the way I was playing, coached, or whether I just didn’t get it my first two years with the Texans. It wasn’t the same style [as DE]. It wasn’t attack and smash’em in the face. It was a lot of read, react, grab’em, and shed. That whole concept was foreign to me. I never played that way. I’ve always been an aggressive, downhill, attacker kind of guy. The technique I used [early on] wasn’t very good and I struggled with that technique. I could see why they’d say that after watching me use that technique. I knew what I could do, but until you can do it you can’t say you can do it.
SW: You’re roughly 6’3” 270 pounds. You’re considered to be an undersized DE. With many offensive lineman over 6’5” and a good 315 pounds or more, how do you compete with size like that?
JB: I spend a lot of time training. I really don’t spend much time not working out. From all the teams I’ve been on I’ve always been there in top guys [as] the strongest on the team in the variety of lifts. The effort I put in the weight room strength and conditioning wise is what does it.
SW: You’re entering free agency this offseason after the lockout is cleared up. Your defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, is headed to the Eagles. With you playing for the Eagles previously for one season and them not matching the Titans offer back last season, is there any bad blood there from your year there that would keep you from signing with them?
JB: No, I think any and all feelings if they were bad could be waived by a healthy contract. There’s one thing that Andy Reid said to me [that] I kind of laugh about now because of the success I had last year, but it’s a story I like to tell.
It was the beginning of my first game as an Eagle and then there on the Jumbo Tron, ESPN or something was on and they were talking about defensive ends in the preseason. They were talking about me, “oh, the most productive defensive end in preseason…” and I’m standing on the field and I wasn’t dressing for the game. Andy Reid walks by and he goes, “Hey! You got some coach that doesn’t let the best defensive end in the preseason play.” At the time, obviously you can imagine how you feel. I understand the situation and a little later understood his humor/personality and can laugh about it now.
I was paraphrasing there. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but something along those lines.
Babin will have teams clamoring for his services once free agency opens. Now that Coach Washburn gave him the opportunity to succeed in 2010, the coach’s media should see to it that Babin is placed in a favorable situation in 2011.
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