The outside linebacker enters the final year of his rookie contract and reflects on his status as a mentor for younger players, chasing statistical goals, learning to enjoy country music and spending time with his daughter.
It seems like over the past five weeks, you've been the guy who riles everyone up in the locker room. Is that an accurate statement?
Yeah I get them going, I'm a huge trash talker and we have a lot of bonding moments with each other, like teammates and I just talk a lot of trash to them about a lot of stuff. So yeah, I get them going and riled up.
Is that consistent with your whole life? Have you always been the guy to do that?
Yeah anytime with close friends I usually talk trash in the competitive way. To make them work harder or do something better. So I end up getting trash talk from them a lot of times because we might be competing on something or whatever. When I'm doing better I talk trash to them. It kind of keeps us working hard, keeps us competitive.
How do you know where the line is?
I mean, you know, you don't push the limit. You kind of know where the line is because I wouldn't want nobody pushing the limit with me to try and piss me off. It just stays friendly a majority of the time. We don't ever push that line; we just talk a lot of trash about certain stuff in certain moments. Whatever it may be.
You're a fourth-year guy now, is that crazy to think about?
Yeah it is. Thinking about it, like it just felt like yesterday I was a rookie trying to figure out my way and trying to find guys I could cling on to and be cool with to help me learn how to be a pro. I could learn from it, watch from it. They can help me be a pro in different ways on and off the field as far as like, you know, taking care of my body or telling me different stuff I can do to better myself as far as diet or stuff like that.
You're also just able to feel like you can assert yourself more with these younger players.
Yeah I could talk trash to these guys. I've been here going on my fourth year, which is a long time. Four years is a long time.
You took the trash talking, too, right?
I take the trash talking, but at the same time I let these guys know before anything, I'm going to talk trash but at the same time I want you to be better. I want the best for you, because I want you to be a great teammate because the better you can help somebody be, the better the team turns out.
You're confident in saying that because I assume you're in film study with them and see their hard work?
And you want them to be in comfortable in the workplace. Let them know it's always work first in your profession, but you can still have a little fun. You don't want guys to walk around uptight and tense and scared to talk or enjoy themselves and kind of joke around at moments.
That's not hard for Daron [Payne] though, because those guys at Alabama are serious.
Yeah they know, we got to tell them to ease up. But at the end of the day when we touch that field, I let them know it's business first. We can joke around in the locker room. Like I mess with Tim [Settle], I tell him, 'the only way I joke with you is if you're out here executing in practice. So if you're not executing you can't talk to me today.' And I ignore him, too. One day he made me mad about an assignment and I ignored him. I told him I'm not trying to hear what you got to say, I don't want to talk to you today. But he's a good kid, those good young kids they work hard and they play hard. They can help the team in tremendous ways as long as they keep their heads on straight and they keep on working to improve every day and each week.
Five games and you don't have a sack. It is it annoying that it's the one statistic everyone looks at for your position?
I think it's unfair that people only think about sacks for my position. I get pissed off about not getting sacks, but it's also, I drop in coverage a lot too. My responsibilities are more than just rushing the quarterback. So I mean, I impact the game in multiple ways than just rushing the quarterback. But people don't see that, they just want outside linebacker, edge rush, they just want me to get sacks. It's frustrating at times, it's a long season. We've only played five games and I've been close in every game.
And all the interior guys are getting the sacks now, so you're obviously doing something to influence that.
They're stepping up, and those guys they rush hard, too. So they are either stepping up or the quarterback is stepping up, or he's falling back or whatever.
You also have the second most pressures on the team. Do you feel like analytics may be starting to help people understand your position more?
Yeah, I feel like those stats, like pressures and hurries, analytics is kind of helping people understand that he didn't get the quarterback, but he heard a quarterback is throwing a pass he didn't want to throw to prevent from taking the sack. I know against Andrew Luck, I got to the quarterback, he was on his back and I forced him to throw an incomplete pass because he tried to get the ball off before getting hit, and I got there in time. He just got the ball off, like the way my hand was positioned, he just got the ball off for an incomplete pass. I think people don't even watch the game because if any smart person watched the game, they wouldn't be displeased with the performance. They know he got to the quarterback, he just didn't leave no stat. It's usually just people watching the stats.
How do you think that mindset impacts you, considering you are in a contract year?
Great football helps your case regardless of what goes on. Because if you play great football, it's not like you won't appear on the film. They see that you're making the quarterback get the ball out quicker and he's scared of you and he's not throwing a comfortable pass, they're going to notice that. They're going to notice film because at the end of the day your film helps you, not the stat lines.
As the season goes on, are you anxious about not having a secure destination next year?
I don't even think about that because at the end of the day, if I think about that then it's going to affect my play. I just think about going out there and playing hard every day. I love playing football, I just want to go out there and play great football week in and week out. Focus on what I can control, and that's my attitude when I walk into the building, how I touch the field and my effort when I touch the field.
Has that always been your mentality?
Yeah because you don't want it to cause anxiety and stress. If you think about the stuff you can't control. Like I couldn't control where I got drafted to, when I got drafted. I can't control the future, I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, I don't know what's going to happen the day before, I don't know what's going to happen next year, next month, next game. All I can do is just live day by day and handle what I can control and go out there and give the best I can. Everything will fall in place. Whatever God has in store for me is going be in store for me when it happens, when it's time for it to come.
How have you liked living out here for the past four years?
"It's been cool.
Is it a similar feel to Atlanta?
No, it's not. So, going from Atlanta to Starkville, Mississippi – Starkville is kind of like a college town. So when college is going on, there's stuff a college student can do and different stuff. You know, frat parties, bars, clubs or whatever it is, there's fun stuff to do. But once it's out, it's like wow there's nothing to do. Then you come here it's kind of like that balance in your life of being somewhere where there's a lot to do and you got a chance to pick what you want to do. I know how to sit at home and just enjoy myself and just not go out and be at no club or no bar or be out in the limelight. I know what pleases me. Man, I could live anywhere.
You're not very particular?
Yeah, if you put a movie theatre anywhere, hey I could live in Antarctica. Some good coats.
So what do you do in your spare time?
"I mean I just watch film; I just take care of my body. I just chill. When I get some extra time like maybe on a Friday. It's usually when the new movies come out, I'll go catch a new movie if it's of my interest.
What are you thinking about tonight?
I don't know about tonight. I just recently saw Venom.
I'm going to see that tonight.
Yeah it's pretty good. So, I don't even know what's out there. I haven't even checked.
I'm telling you, A Star is Born is really good.
A Star is Born? I saw that, but I never checked it out.
I don't know if it's up your alley. It has a lot of singing, some country music.
Going to school in Starkville, I was open to everything. You have a team of mixed guys. Those guys didn't grow up listening to rap, and I didn't grow up listening to country. So, our coach in order to please everybody, we had music at practice. One day he might start off playing country music; one day he might play rap. Then after stretching you listen to country, like what is this? That's when I started, I like this song "Chicken Fried" by the Zac Brown Band."
Cold beer on a Friday night…
Cold beer on a Friday night, a pair of jeans that fit just right. So yeah, that's what I'm saying. I'm open to anything. After being there and living there for four years, I'm into it. It kind of grows on you. You listen to it like, yeah, it's a story like me. You can sit down and you can be like, 'Wow he's talking to me.'
That's my theory about country music, artists just talk about whatever they see in front of them.
Yeah. I'm just open to anything. I'll watch any type of movie if it has a good interest. I got to make sure I'm interested.
If not, you'll fall asleep.
Yeah I got bad history of that. If it's a movie that doesn't have enough action right away I wake up and I'm like, 'What happened?'"
I hear you talking about playing NBA 2K a lot, are video games a big part of your time off too?
"If you get a chance, in between all the film watching if you have the energy. I play it when I can, a lot of times if I have time on an off day. If I'm not getting a massage, or seeing a chiropractor, or doing some recovery workouts or recovery and like whatever stretches, hot tub or cold tub or whatever. If I'm not doing some recovery, I might turn on the game."
What do you do with your daughter? Does she like playing video games?
No, she's got an iPad and she watches like kid videos on there. When she's around, I try to take her to like Chuck E Cheese or like an indoor playground or the little indoor trampoline place where she can go jump around until she gets tired and she just collapses. Turns and goes to sleep. She goes to sleep. Soon as I buckle her in and I look back, and she's asleep.
Do you jump around with her or just watch?
I watch her and then she tells me to start jumping with her. But that's only when we go with just me and her. I try and take her with some more little kids. I try to take her with my nephew or my cousin, somebody younger than me. You jump on the trampoline, those kids have energy for days, I jump on the trampoline and my calf muscle start burning, I'm like 'wow.' She just be jumping all day.
How do you like being a dad. Is it what you expected?
Well I'm heading to my fifth year of being a dad, it's pretty easy to me. I don't know how it is for anybody else, but my child, she's my only child. It's pretty simple, she watches herself, she manages herself now. She's been managing herself since she was like two, since I first introduced her to the iPad.
Does she get that from you?
Yeah, well she's smart. Yeah, she gets that from me, she gets that from me. A little bit from her mom, but she is like 95 percent me.
When do you think you can start talking trash to her?
Now. I trash talk to her now.
In what way?
I tell her she's a crybaby. I'm like, 'you're a crybaby.' She's like, 'no I'm not.' 'Yes, you are.;' Like, she does certain stuff, she'll be acting like a little baby. I say, 'are you a big girl or are you a baby?' She's like, 'I'm a big girl.'
So you start the taunting young?
Yeah I start it young. But she's so smart she picks up on stuff quick. She's almost like a twin.
This interview was condensed and edited.