INDIANAPOLIS – The intros and happy handshakes are well in the rear view.
In fact, all of the stuff that says "new regime" at the NFL Scouting Combine – the introductory pressers; the congratulatory hugs from former colleagues; all of the giddy, Year One things …
For the Jaguars, those things are so … well, so last year. The Jaguars' contingent, including General Manager David Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley, arrived in Indianapolis late Wednesday afternoon for the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, and they arrived with a decidedly different feeling than a year ago.
It's not a win-now feeling, or a feeling that the Jaguars are close. It's not even a feeling that all of the groundwork has been laid. But there is a feeling that what is being built is good, and that it is being built the right way. There's certainly an excitement about what's next.
"Whether you have success or not, you always have to go back to the bottom of the mountain and work your way back up," Bradley said Wednesday afternoon at the JW Marriott Hotel in Indianapolis.
"But that bottom is a lot closer now with some of the progress that has been made."
For Bradley, that's a big admission – that progress indeed has been made. He doesn't talk in terms of things "being done," or "comfort" or "reaching goals." Daily competition and improvement and all of the other Bradley-isms with which Jaguars fans have become familiar in the last year don't leave room for feeling satisfied with what has been done.
But while Bradley and Caldwell in no way were satisfied with Year One, and while they're still far closer to the beginning of the building process than the end, they arrive at the Combine – a week when the league gathers to focus on the future – feeling they are moving in a good direction.
When Bradley discusses what's next for the Jaguars, he uses the phrase, "Step Two," and that's a phrase both he and Caldwell discussed upon arriving Wednesday.
"I think for us and for coach, it means we have vision of building this and taking the next step to where we ultimately want to be, which is a sustainable franchise," Caldwell said. "This is another step in the process for us."
"Step Two" says that Step One has been taken.
"Step Two" says there was indeed some progress made, and Caldwell said particular progress was done in the area of knowing what needs to be done next.
Caldwell throughout last offseason said a major objective was getting to know the roster. Throughout a year that featured 231 transactions, the Jaguars by any measure improved the bottom of the roster, and Caldwell said shortly after the season the next objective was to continue the improvement.
Caldwell said his knowledge of the roster now compared to last season is "a lot better."
"When you spend a year with these guys, you really get to know how they compete, how they act, how they are in the locker room, how they are in the locker room, how they are in the game field, on the practice field," he said. "We feel really good about the group of guys we have.
"Step Two is to build on top of what we already have with our guys."
That's what this offseason is about – continuing the build. That's what the May 8-10 NFL Draft will be about, and while Caldwell will offer few hints this week about what the Jaguars will do with the No. 3 overall selection, the draft overall is considered a deep draft. The Jaguars have 10 selections, and Caldwell clearly believes the team can improve at various stages of the draft.
That's what free agency, which will begin March 11, will be about, too. Caldwell has said the Jaguars could be more active in the early stages of free agency, and while the Jaguars' primary means of building will be through the draft, he also wants to add enough players in free agency that the team can develop rookies at a reasonable pace.
Bradley, like Caldwell, said there's no question that the Jaguars 4-12 season in 2013 better prepared them for the moves that must be made this offseason.
"I think some of our questions have been answered," Bradley said. "I think when we talk personnel now, we have a better idea of what we can do to enhance our team through free agency and the draft. We went back and forth, 'Do we say, Step Two or next step? By no means are we saying, 'OK, we have our culture defined. That's what it's all about. Now, let's move on to the next thing.' That's something that has to be done every year.
"Step Two is the second draft. It's a new group in free agency we're looking at. It's that next phase."
The specifics of the next phase are anyone's guess. Work toward that will be done this week, but we can expect few real hints about the coming weeks and months to leak from Bradley and Caldwell.
That's what we don't know. What we do know is this is very much a new year and a new time, with a new feeling. A year ago, it was about getting to know each other as much as players.
This year, the Jaguars' contingent won't shake as many hands, or get as many hugs, but they're not here for that. They're here for Step Two, which from the looks of things could be a fascinating time.