USA Today Staff Writer JACKSONVILLE, FLA — Aaron Kampman loves Green Bay.
He likes the unmistakable friendly feel of the Wisconsin town, and he understands and appreciates the esteem in which it holds its professional football team, the Packers.
The two-time Pro Bowler lived and played there for eight years.
But now he’s hanging out in Jacksonville, where he signed with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in March after the strangest season of his career. It began with an unwelcome switch from defensive end to outside linebacker when defensive coordinator Dom Capers went from a 4-3 to a 3-4 set and ended prematurely when he tore his anterior cruicate ligament in his left knee in Week 11.
And that was the beginning of the end for Kampman’s Green Bay experience. The Packers made attempts to keep him, but not with a long-term package. Kampman knew the 3-4 defense would never really suit him.
Jacksonville offered a four-year deal worth $26 million, with $11 million guaranteed. Perhaps more important, the Jaguars run a 4-3, meaning Kampman moves back to his beloved end position.
His knee is fine, and the Jaguars are counting on his pass-rushing prowess to be likewise. He had 37 sacks from 2006 to 2008 and is joining a team that had a league-low 14 last season.
“I am, obviously, excited to get my hand back down (on the ground as a lineman),” Kampman said after a recent Jaguars practice.
Even so, he shakes his head about how quickly things changed in Green Bay, where he was one of the more popular players and active with community projects. Asked whether he thinks the Packers were more or less relieved to cut ties, Kampman sighs and pauses before responding.
“Um, let’s just say I’m just glad to be here in Jacksonville,” he says, pausing again and then continuing. “I think they chose to go in a new direction, and totally that’s OK. They have every right to do that. I don’t know if that included me quite as prominently, so I’d say that’s where it stands.”
So here he is, and his new teammates are quite happy about that. Jaguars quarterback David Garrard smiles when asked about Kampman.
“He has brought another leadership role for us — a guy that is steadfast, a guy that does things by the book, a guy that speaks when he needs to,” Garrard says. “He does so much in that regard, especially for the younger guys on the defensive line and the guys on the defense, period.
“They see him as a guy who definitely does things the right way and knows how to get it done. I think that’s good for them, because they haven’t really had that kind of leadership before.”
Second-year defensive tackle Terrance Knighton says Kampman “shows you how to do drills, shows you how to do things. He’s a professional on and off the field. He teaches us how to watch film. For a lot of the young guys, you need a guy like that.”
Adds rookie defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, “Just getting advice and working on technique with him (is) a great honor for me, just being that he’s Aaron Kampman.”
For his part, Kampman has embraced his teammates as well as his new surroundings. But he still bristles when contemplating last season.
“Well, you know, I think that the gifts and abilities that the good Lord gave me probably are best suited for defensive end,” he says. “That being said, I clearly was asked to (play linebacker), and I did it to the best of my ability.”
After his departure, Kampman bought full-page ads in two Wisconsin newspapers to thank fans for their support during his Packers career.
“It was a good way for us to have some closure for our time there,” he says. “My wife and I feel very fortunate to have been there for eight years — and not too many people stay with one organization for that long — and we built a lot of relationships there and we were very thankful for our time there, but it was just time to move on.”
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