Although Justin Roland finished his Kansas State football career in November, the team's second-leading tackler knew he had to return to Manhattan before he embarks on training camp as a linebacker hopeful for the Philadelphia Eagles. The reason for his visit: To see players and coaches, and to get in one more good workout with strength and conditioning coach Mike Kent. Roland discusses his opportunity with the Eagles and talks K-State defense in this Q&A with GoPowercat.com's D. Scott Fritchen.
You mention coming back to Manhattan to hang out with friends, but what about this recent workout you had with Coach Kent?
Justin Roland: I like to come back here and work out. Coach Kent got us really ready for the Pro Day. He has a very good system in place. It's just fun to come back and see players and coaches, work out, stuff like that. I ran into Jordy (Nelson) and he wanted to work out, so we worked out together. Coach Kent humbled us. (laughs) We did some footwork drills to make sure we're ready for training camp. It was fun. Jordy's a good guy. It's more of a chore for me to keep up with him than for him to keep up with me. Jordy brings the best out in you. It's one of those things where Coach Kent is low-key about what he does. He doesn't want a whole lot of publicity. But he has a really good system.
Obviously, it was a tough season. But there has been a lot of talk about guys looking bigger and being faster. What do you see from these guys?
JR: From what I've seen in being around them – a bunch of them are my friends – their confidence level is through the roof. They're big, strong and fast and if that transitions onto the field they should be really, really tough. I hope they are. We were in great shape last year but we had some injuries and stuff like that. That's the thing, you can be in the best shape in the world but if you get out there and have an injury here and there, the whole season can crumble. Now they have the full arsenal.
Have you had a chance to talk with Coach Ron Prince since you've been back in Manhattan?
JR: Oh yeah, I talked to him when I got back here. I told him my transition and how he's running things at K-State is really like the NFL, like with the practice style, it's right on. It's exactly like that. And I like that.
What's the chance of sticking with the Eagles?
JR: It's looking good. I went down there and you really don't know what to expect. It's really a different level of football. Mentally, you've got to be 'on.' Mental errors have to go. One thing you notice is people study their craft and really know what they're doing. It's really an amazing transition.
There are eight linebacker spots and nine candidates. What do you think of that challenge?
JR: It's a tough one. They've got some guys that they like, then the rookies they have coming in, they like us, too. It's a battle. It's going to come down to the preseason games and who makes more plays and who awes the coaches. It's real fair and it's a battle I can win. That's what I like about it. I'm at 237 (pounds) and I like to be between 237 and 240. If I'm any heavier now, I just don't feel very good about it.
Do you have some guys who you instantly clicked with in Philadelphia?
JR: Donovan McNabb, he's just a really good guy and a really good person. He's a big football guy but he can have fun and likes to have fun all the time. He keeps football fun. If you're not having fun while you're playing you shouldn't be playing. At will (linebacker), Omar Gaither, is from Tennessee in his third year. He's a really good guy and showed me the ropes and has helped me out a lot with the playbook. Stewart Bradley from Nebraska is also there and is a really good guy.
You've been around the guys here and talk about their confidence and about injuries from a year ago. Now break it down: What do you think we'll see from the K-State defense this season?
JR: They should be good. Antwon Moore and Joshua Moore -- obviously, having Antwon back, he's a big-play guy and it obviously hurt us last year when we lost him. The linebackers should be really good. They have a bunch of guys and with Josh Moore being back it'll help the secondary out a bunch. There's just a bunch of guys that have experience under their belt. Even thought last year wasn't the best, experience matters. On defense, all the need is some confidence. If they start out playing good early, it could turn into something really good for them.
What's the prospect of you coming back to a game in the fall?
JR: Actually, probably not good because of the travel situation. I'm pretty sure they go up the day before so it'll eat up my Saturdays, but hopefully I'll make it to one.