Calvin Pace’s looming size (6-4, 270) and quick feet (4.6 in the 40) make him the prototypical OLB in a 3-4 defensive scheme, though it took his former employer five years and three head coaches to finally figure it out.
Initially drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in 2003, the team tried to use him as a defensive end in a 4-3 scheme with limited success for three years. It wasn’t until the hiring of Ken Whisenhunt in his fourth pro season did Pace finally produce.
Playing strictly OLB in Whisenhunt’s newly installed 3-4 defense, Pace had his best season setting career highs in tackles (98) and sacks (6.5) and looked like a new man. His best year also happened to be the final year of his contract in Arizona and prior to the 2008 season, Pace signed a six year, $42 million dollar contract ($22 million guaranteed) with the New York Jets. Though 2008 didn’t end well for the Jets, Pace again set career highs in sacks (7), forced fumbles (5) and scored the first TD of his pro career.
Is the best thing about the off-season not being asked so many questions about Brett Favre?
“Yes, that’s definitely one of the perks. I never thought about it when he got traded to us that I would get so many questions, but its part of the job. It’s cool.”
Going from the desert in Arizona to the bright lights of New York, has it been difficult to adapt to the pressures of the New York media?
“No not really, because were in Jersey really, in a small town. You can get away from foot ball cause were not even in the city.
You and the rest of the Jets destroyed your former Cardinal teammates 56-35 in week four. The Jets looked like a favorite in the AFC for ¾’s of the season while Arizona was kind of in the NFC background all along. How did you feel then compared to the way you do now and would you change anything?
“Hey, hindsight is 20/20. When I signed in the off-season I thought I made the right choice and I stick with that. Things happen in football and sometimes they don’t go how you think they will go. We didn’t finish how we wanted to finish and Arizona came out east took a few bad losses, but rebounded and starting to play their best football in the playoffs. They peaked at the right time. So it worked out for them.”
In your first four years in the league you had only 7.5 sacks and you didn’t make the impact a lot of people expected initially. But over the last two years you’ve had 13.5 sacks. What is it about the last 2 years that have helped you becomes so much more involved? Was it the move from DE to OLB, strictly?
“One of the keys is having an opportunity to play. It’s hard to make plays when you’re sitting on the bench. Two, playing OLB definitely helped me, if nothing else because it puts me in great match ups. It’s tough sitting on the outside going against Jake Long, against those type guys every single play, most of the time you’re going to be outweighed by at least 100 pounds. But if you look at it and put a TE or RB out there who is only 260 or 270 the match ups are better. This is just a better scheme for me (playing OLB), not because I didn’t like to play DE, but for me and the longevity of my career.”
You forced 5 fumbles this year, one of the highest totals in the NFL. What makes that happen?
“I think the thing is when you have a chance to rush the QB, depending on where I line up, if the QB has his back to me it’s a lot easier to get a strip or hit him. Sometimes you just run past and stick your hand out because he can’t see you. If you see a guy, a running back or wide receiver, going down to the ground, you try to punch the ball out. It’s more or less being aware of stripping the ball. I think about doing it, but a lot of times it just happens.”
With draft season looming, you are a former first round pick 18th overall. Describe the pressure of living up to that. Did that affect your play? How hard is it to live up to the expectations of being a first round pick?
“It’s tough man. It’s tough. It’s a situation where you think you can handle it, depending upon where you drafted at, but you have no idea. It’s a blessing and I wouldn’t trade being a first round draft pick for the world, but you need a supporting cast too. You need the right scheme that suits your talents. There is whole lot that goes into it; Getting overlooked by the Mel Kiper’s and so called NFL experts of the world, or your coach gets fired, the scheme changes. I never wanted to be labeled as a bust and everywhere I read I kept reading that so I stopped reading altogether. Eventually I just settled in and said, ‘I have to get better and when I get my shot I have to make the most of it’. And I did and so
far it’s worked out.”
Did you see Ken Whisenhunt bringing it all together last year compared to prior to his arrival?
“Yes definitely. It was all bad before him. The coaches changed and the thing that changed my life was Whisenhunt coming in and if nothing else brought a winning mentality. Everything he does from how to prepare, etc it’s all about winning championship and the guys bought into it. That’s why they’re in Tampa.”
What did you think of Kurt Warner and what was it like to play with him?
“First of all he is probably one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life. Down to earth, humble guy. He doesn’t carry himself like the player that has won all these awards, MVPs and stuff. He’s the ultimate competitor. When we played them this year in New York he was getting hit, and sacked, throwing interceptions. But then comes right back like it’s nobig deal. He is the ultimate winner.”
What is it like getting paid $22 million guaranteed like you did in free agency a year ago? Is that cartoon money? Sweetest feeling ever? Is there anything in the world that you still want but don’t have?
“(Laughing) Can I believe it? Yeah, I knew the day would come and I’d get a chance to get out of Arizona, but I would’ve never guessed $22 million. Money can buy anything, but nothing else I want more than to go to the playoffs, and I can’t buy that. Everyone says“Win the Super Bowl” but this is my seventh year I want to start with that.”