In January, Yannick Ngakoue broke through the Colt’s line and took down quarterback Andrew Luck.
It was his eighth sack of the season. A Jaguars rookie record that stood since 1996 was suddenly broken.
Chances are Ngakoue, the 22-year-old defensive end, knew the tendencies of the Colts’ offensive line. He knew how to beat them and where. In a league and game that’s almost fully determined by how you work off the field, Ngakoue separated himself by having a veteran’s mindset.
“I think 90 percent of this game is preparation; 10 percent is just mental,” he said. “Ninety percent, before you even come out on the field, you gotta know your Xs and Os. You gotta know who you’re facing, your opponents. You gotta know the tendencies. You gotta know everything about them, the good and the bad.”
Ngakoue was second in the NFL in rookie sacks last season, massively out playing his third-round draft selection. One of the biggest differences that’s seen on the field, is what a player does outside team facilities.
It’s something he doesn’t take lightly.
“The real pros, when we’re done with our day, they’re trying to find something to get better. They’re trying to find anything to get better, and it has to do with extra film study, extra working out or stretching and extra cardio. You’re always just trying to level up and advance,” he said.
That bodes well for Jacksonville. The sophomore slump is a real thing in the NFL. Teams have tape on him. Teams will know his tendencies and game plan to stop the Jaguars’ leading sack man.
This offseason, Ngakoue kept a detailed workout schedule that included cardio, workouts, watching tape and trying to get better by keeping his momentum going on from last year.
Playing at Maryland in the Big Ten and even before, he always had a detailed workout schedule, but it’s gradually become more precise since he was drafted.
His pregame routine is to pray and thank God for putting him in his position.
Ngakoue considers Thursday and Friday part of his pregame routine also. On these days, he studies the game film of the opposing team’s offensive line. He’ll watch the two opposing offensive tackles by himself, learning their tendencies.
It might be bad news for the rest of the NFL, but his mindset and work ethic already are shaping this upcoming season for him.
“Compared to last year, this year has slowed down a lot for me. Just my rookie year, everything was flying, and I was just going out full speed and doing what I had to do,” Ngakoue said. “And now, I have more understanding of the game, more understanding of how things go. So it’s very easy and really slow for me now.”
Not only is there a difference in his understanding, the entire team prepares more diligently and pays more attention to detail. This is because of the coaching change that took place in December and was finalized in early January.
Doug Marrone was hired as head coach. Tom Coughlin was brought in as the executive vice president of football operations. Each of these former coaches are widely known in the NFL for their attention to detail and thorough preparation.
It could be a perfect match for a player like Ngakoue, who prepares as someone above his age would. Hopefully it rubs off on the entire team, after a disappointing 2016. Ngakoue said it has throughout this offseason.
“I feel like more guys are more focused. More guys are locked in and a lot of guys are buying into what we’re trying to do up here. I feel like this year, the focus is definitely on another level,” he said.
Coaching changes almost always bring in new hope and positive quotes such as that. But with Coughlin and Marrone, it’s not your average coaching change. Coughlin, our franchise’s first coach and two-time Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants, can be seen roaming the practice fields daily. The running joke in the NFL (overused joke as well), it that you have to set your clocks five minutes early with him. Players are considered late if they aren’t five minutes early when he’s in charge.
Ngakoue seems to naturally mesh with the Coughlin mindset and proved it this offseason and training camp. Now, he’s just ready to expose those who didn’t put in the same amount of work.
“You can just tell from people’s game, how they’re playing, if they put in the work or not.”