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Jaguars LB Travon Walker motivated in Year 3 by teammates' extensions: 'Definitely fuel to the fire for me'

Travon Walker seemed to turn the corner in Year 2, finishing the 2023 season on a high note. The Jacksonville Jaguars pass rusher and former No. 1 overall pick believes the best is ahead of him after he learned to conquer the mental part of the battle.

"It was just time for me to just go play freely and not be thinking as much," Walker said Tuesday on NFL Network's The Insiders. "So I feel like that helped me take a major step into my second year, and now it's more of a mental game for me than physical."

Walker, 23, finished last season with 10 sacks, with 5.5 of them coming in the final six games. The Jaguars' defense was up and down last season, heavily reliant on turnovers and big plays but too inconsistent overall. Still, there's promise that this could be a good unit in time thanks to a strong, young foundation, and Walker should be a big part of that improvement effort.

New Jaguars defensive lineman Arik Armstead said recently he believes Walker can be "the best edge in the league" in time. Right now, however, he's not even the best one on his own defense, playing second fiddle to teammate Josh Allen, who is coming off a 17.5-sack season. Allen was so good, in fact, he earned a new five-year, $150 million extension.

Don't think Walker didn't notice. The young pass rusher will be extension-eligible following the 2024 season, and another big step forward could lead to an Allen-like payday. The Jaguars have taken care of their young stars this offseason, extending Allen and QB Trevor Lawrence, and could do so eventually with Walker, another homegrown talent.

Walker hopes he's the next in line for a big payday.

"Just from watching those two guys alone, they show you a lot of the things that they do inside the building, on the field and off the field, just from them being one of the first people in the building to being one of the last people leaving the building," Walker said. "And just a lot of the extra things they put into the game that you probably won't get from a game unless you put in that extra (time).

"So it's definitely fuel to the fire for me, just seeing those guys doing it the right way. I mean, who wouldn't want to follow in those footsteps to be in that position one day?"

Jaguars head coach Doug Pederson also recently noted that Walker has embraced more of a leadership role on the team, which can only help his standing in the facility. Walker said he's felt empowered by the staff and wants to be someone the younger players look up to from here on out.

"It's just one of those feelings, that I have guys counting on me," Walker said. "Throughout my time of playing football, from the collegiate level to now, I've had a lot of guys looking up to me, to go out there and handle my business, and they looked at me in a leadership role just because they know the type of person that I am and the type of player that I am.

"So obviously this offseason I've been trying to get better, and hopefully just continuously elevate to be one of the best players in the league one day."

Walker also credited being "a lot more comfortable in the scheme" with his breakout last season, but that scheme is likely to look different than what the Jaguars ran in 2023. They moved on from former defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell this offseason, replacing him with Ryan Nielsen, who was co-defensive coordinator with the Saints in 2022 and defensive coordinator with the Falcons last season.

But having gotten a taste of what Nielsen plans to run this season, Walker sees no reason why there can't be improvement.

"Right now, I definitely can say the defense is headed in a great direction for the type of players that we have on the defense," Walker said. "And I just feel like it lets a lot of the guys up front and within the box just play a lot more free, not a lot of thinking.

"... (Nielsen has) done a great job so far coming in, being one of those coaches that's all in, and he wants his players to get better. So I feel like the defense this year, we should take a major step from where we were last year."

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