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2014 offseason: A strong, definite belief


JACKSONVILLE – The feeling is different.

And to hear defensive tackle Roy Miller tell it – shoot, to hear just about anyone who has been around the Jaguars' locker room more than a few months tell it – it's a different feeling that's also a really, really good feeling.

The draft has long since passed. Organized team activities are over now.

The team's 2014 mandatory minicamp is over, too.

All of that means that the on-field part of this offseason – the second offseason of the Gus Bradley/David Caldwell Era – is essentially over, too. And as it ended late last week, it ended not with players feeling drained, disillusioned or anything close to dreading what comes next.

Beginning last week, the Jaguars' veterans are off until July 24. That's when they return for 2014 Training Camp. Yeah, they'll get away, and yeah, they're looking forward to time away. But at the same time, they can't wait to get back.

"The anticipation is definitely there," Jaguars veteran defensive tackle Roy Miller said.

Here's the biggest reason they can't wait to get back: Just like a whole lot of fans and other people who are following this organization closely, they can't wait to see what happens next.

That was the prevailing attitude around EverBank Field last month, and especially last week as the team closed the on-field portion of the offseason with a three-day mandatory minicamp.

Hope springing eternal at the dawn of an NFL season isn't usual. There is giddiness in the air when just about every team reports for a new season. There even has been giddiness around the Jaguars in recent seasons.

But as the Jaguars began casting at least one eye toward this late July, the giddiness, hope and optimism had a different feeling. It's a feeling that the hope is based on reality, that the giddiness is more than the giddiness that accompanies something new, and that the optimism is built on a solid foundation.

"We have more people who understand the culture, even since OTAs started," safety Johnathan Cyprien said. "Gus doesn't even have to say it. We all know it. We all know what 'Victory' means to us. We all know what our mission statement is. There's a little more togetherness than last year, and more accountability. There are guys on the team now that will address situations."

The Jaguars concluded their 2014 mandatory minicamp.

"Victory" is one of those Bradley buzzwords. And if you're following the Jaguars, go ahead and get used to hearing it. It's not victory in the sense of winning a single game. It's about staying focused on improving every day and keeping your eye on what matters and achieving a bigger philosophical victory through that. It's about knowing that if you do that, victories and goals and achievement will come.

Bradley's belief is based on such philosophies, and make no mistake: entering Year Two, players are invested in his beliefs. If they weren't before, the Jaguars' four victories in five games after an 0-8 start last season made sure of it.

"Our trust in Gus' approach will take us further this season," cornerback Dwayne Gratz said. "With the second half of last year, we know if we stick with it things will start being the way we want it to be. If we do the right things all the time – running to the ball, all of the things he's about – we'll be all right."

Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III had that feeling, too.

"I believe we're closer," Shorts said. "I believe we've gotten better from where we were last year. I believe we're way ahead of where we were last year."

Shorts is entering his fourth NFL season. This is the first time he has been in the same offense two consecutive years. That's tough on a young player, and it's not easy on a veteran. Mostly, it speaks to the stop-and-start, searching-for-direction nature of the franchise for a while.

What We Learned from #Jaguars Minicamp: — Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) June 20, 2014

That nature is no more.

"I was talking to (tight end) Marcedes (Lewis) the other day, and he was saying, 'Man, we're just way ahead of where we were last year,'" Shorts said. "Last year, we were about learning the plays and trying to figure out what to do. Now, we know. Now, we have the same playbook. Now, we understand everything.

"Now, it's just working on technique and working on football."

It was noted to Shorts that that's a feeling he never has had in the NFL. He laughed.

"Never," he said. "Never. It's exciting. I was thinking the same thing, but to hear other guys say it, that we're ahead of last year … we're not where we want to be yet, but I think we are on the right track."

You would be hard-pressed to find someone in the Jaguars' locker room who doesn't believe that. This time last year, players wanted to believe Bradley's approach could work. Now, they believe it. Absolutely and without question.

That belief is key. Yes, the Jaguars are more talented than this time last year. The offensive and defensive lines are better. The secondary is better. The running back position may be better, too. The players know their playbooks better, and there just overall should be the benefits that come with players and coaches being in a system two years compared to one.

But mostly, this is a team with great belief in what's going on, and in its leadership. It's a group moving in one direction, a definite direction. There may still be a long way to go because this is still early in the build process, but there's a feeling around the Jaguars that the right steps have been taken and that there could be another step coming soon.

That's a different feeling, and it's about as good a feeling as you can imagine heading into the final weeks of the 2014 offseason.

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