JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jalen Ramsey flitted around the Jacksonville Jaguars’ locker room on Wednesday while his teammates did media interviews mostly talking about the team’s Sunday wild-card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills. Ramsey had his hood up and held a shoebox in his hands. He came in, scanning, and quickly ducked out again. He did this for the better part of a half-hour.
When nearly all the reporters had left, he summoned the other defensive backs into a huddle and dramatically opened the shoebox. “Oooh,” said one. “Huh,” said another. A Jags employee wandered by, and Ramsey shut the box. Then he opened it again. He grinned as his teammates gawked.
There is always a show with this group.
“It’s a dynamic I’ve never been around before,” says position coach Perry Fewell. “There’s a lot of egos in that room. A lot of opinions in that room.”
The group has a name.
“They describe themselves as the Jaxson Five,” Fewell says. “Jalen is like Michael.”
Ramsey might not be the best cornerback in the NFL, and he might not be the most interesting, but on both counts he’s among the top few. In his first pro game, against Aaron Rodgers, he quipped in the locker room after a loss, “He didn’t throw my way. Write that.” This year he somehow got stoic Cincinnati wideout A.J. Green to choke him down to the turf and get kicked out of the game.
“All of a sudden I see somebody getting choked,” recalls safety Tashaun Gipson. “Man he did it. He said he was gonna do it – he said he was going to talk trash all game.”
Gipson shakes his head.
“I played against that guy a long time,” the former Cleveland Brown says of Green. “For him to get A.J. tossed out the game, you know his trash talk is A-1. I’d give him a 95.”
Ramsey has played 32 regular-season games, matched up against most of the top guys in the league – Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, T.Y. Hilton – and when asked how often he has gotten in a receiver’s head, he says, “I would like to say at least half of the time. Over half of the time. I would like to say that. I don’t know. It’s the NFL, a lot of people are strong-minded. A lot of people work hard, play hard. But I would like to say over at least half the time I have the advantage.”
Asked if he’s been intimidated by anyone as a pro, he says, “No.” Did he think he might be? “No.” Any quarterback? Receiver? “No.”
Ramsey knows there are talkers who just talk, and he’s wary of that distinction. “You get out there, you chirp,” says Gipson, “but in the second, third quarter, if you’re not making plays, you’re just out here talking.”
Gipson says Ramsey talks to all the receivers, but notably said nothing to Larry Fitzgerald before or during their November matchup. “Who talks trash to Larry Fitzgerald?” Gipson asks rhetorically. The Cardinals legend had only 12 yards in that game, a season-low.
Head coach Doug Marrone says he gets a lot of questions about Ramsey from “people in the industry,” which means other coaches. It boils down to, “Is he a freak?” Or, more politely, “Is he just a natural talent or does he work at it?”
From a distance, it’s hard to tell. He can be petulant and emotional. Last season after a loss to the Detroit Lions, cameras found Ramsey crying on the sideline, saying, “I’m tired of losing.” Rookies in their third month of pro ball don’t usually say that.
“In practice, he wants you to throw the ball at him,” Fewell says. “He gets really ticked off if that doesn’t happen. And he takes it out on everybody. He complains to everybody. Me, the other DBs, the coordinator. He complains to everybody.” There’s a story about one of his first pregame walkthroughs last season, when quarterback Blake Bortles lobbed some passes toward receivers and Ramsey started batting them down like end zone Hail Marys. Veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny calls him, “An extreme competitor.”
Coaches and teammates insist Ramsey is competitive in the film room as well. They note he studies tape not only of opposing receivers, but also how other defensive backs play against those receivers compared to how they usually play. “In his preparation through the course of the week, he changes,” Fewell says. “He metamorphosizes.’” Marrone will ambush Ramsey with quizzes about the upcoming opponent and “he’ll rattle off all sorts of tips and keys.”
The game prep and the chirping probably come from the same place. From the time he was a child, Ramsey had to be ready. “I’m the youngest,” he says. “I had an older brother, and an older cousin. I had to hold my own sometimes.” The talk, which may at times be offensive, is another form of defense.
It’s come to a point now where others, even coaches, trust him a lot for a sophomore player. “I listen to him,” says Fewell. “I don’t know it all. I listen to him and what some of his thoughts are. He has a strategy, he has a game plan. Don’t try to throw your strategy on him.”
Posluszny called out Ramsey and Malik Jackson publicly for getting ejected from a game late last year, but the respect never wavered. “We’ll go up against an elite receiver,” he explains. “There will be [film] cutups of that receiver making big plays. In years past that would have been worrisome. We would need to spend a ton of attention on him. Now we have Jalen Ramsey.”
It’s not like the other members of the group are slackers. A.J. Bouye is a standout, Gipson and Aaron Colvin are solid, and Barry Church (like Bouye) is one of the better free-agent pickups of the 2017 offseason. (He’s affectionately referred to as “Uncle Church.”) It’s all helped make the Jags secondary the marrow of the team. Yet there isn’t much argument as to which of the Jaxson Five plays the role of Michael. Ramsey is the front man, the show.
“No hints,” he says when asked what he’s got in the shoebox. “Come Sunday, watch my feet.”
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