JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The hype was pretty loud this offseason regarding rookie nose tackle Sheldon Day.
The fourth round pick impressed a lot of folks with his violent hands and short area quickness. He then suffered a back injury in training camp and missed the first three preseason games.
The hype was tamed, as fans grew impatient waiting to see Day in action.
Since then, he's been regulated to spot work with the Jaguars. Despite playing in all 11 games this season, Day has produced just four tackles. Day has only played 131 snaps on defense and is coming off a career-high 38 plays against the Buffalo Bills.
“I would definitely say there was a barrier at first, learning my role in this defense,” Day said. “Trying to see what I did right, what I did wrong, how I could get more playing time, just try to learn things. But as the season went on, I kind of found my role as [I’m] going to get the opportunity and when I do, I have to take advantage of it. It might not be that much, but I’m definitely going to take advantage of it.”
Day has remained patient on a packed defensive line. He has learned from those in front of him.
“It’s been good learning from guys like Sen’Derrick Marks, teaching me the game in-and-out,” Day said.
However, Day was a key part of Notre Dame's success before he was drafted. A team captain, he was a fixture of the Fighting Irish's defense.
His role has been significantly reduced in the NFL, but it has only made him hungrier.
“It definitely makes you value each rep,” Day said. “It could be my last or it could be an opening for a whole new adventure, so I’m just blessed to have the opportunity.”
Day has also been forced to adjust to a lack of success. He isn't used to losing nine games in a season.
“It’s tough, because you come and play football to win,” Day said. “It’s been a transition for me just to deal with and see how I can change myself and help this team get more wins.”
The rookie believes the NFL is totally different than college football. It's not just one area, but the entire game.
“I’d say it does, the mental aspect, the physical aspect, just the game as a whole,” Day said.
He knows he is in a league where only the elite are invited. Thus, his work in the film room has become that much harder.
“Adjusting week-to-week and seeing what [opponent’s] weaknesses are and trying to find a weakness,” Day said. “It’s kind of crazy that I’m in the NFL and I’ve got to find somebody’s weakness and it’s the cream of the crop.”
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.