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2014 offseason: Different feel, exciting feel


JACKSONVILLE – Day One dawned clear and bright, and pretty much stayed that way. No clouds, nary a hint of rain. Nothing to put a damper on things.

Then again, there's not much room for dampering around these parts. Not for the Jaguars right now, anyway. Not this offseason.

That's because these parts are EverBank Field and the Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields. That's where the Jaguars work and train and that's where the latest step in the 2014 offseason took place on Tuesday.

That step was the first day of 2014 organized team activities. That's the Phase Three of the '14 offseason, which means rookies and veterans and coaches can all be on the field in the closest thing the NFL allows to a real practice in the offseason, and that made it a special day.

And yeah, even for veterans who have participated in their share of offseasons and First Days of OTAs, this first day had a different feel.

"It's very different," defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks said. "It's different because of the place where the franchise was at, and where people see the franchise going."

This is a team that's still building. This is a team that's still young.

This is a team that has had a lot of parts come together this offseason, and Tuesday was the first chance to see all or at least the vast majority of those parts working together.

Tuesday was about quarterbacks, too, of course. The Jaguars selected a quarterback in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft early this month, and that means most days for a while will be about the quarterback.

Blake Bortles, the No. 3 overall selection in the draft, talked about learning from starter Chad Henne, said it was different playing against veterans Tuesday than in the team's rookie minicamp—"definitely" faster, he said – and also talked about what he has experienced since joining the team.

"I think it's such a great environment to walk into, especially as a rookie." Bortles said. "You walk in and everyone is very accepting – you know, 'this is how things go certain ways.' Everybody's been tremendously friendly and it's been an unbelievable place to walk into."

Bortles used the word "fun" six times Tuesday, and "awesome" three times, and that pretty much summed up how a lot of the Jaguars felt following Day One of OTAs.

Optimism and growth has been the theme since last offseason, when Owner Shad Khan shook away the past and turned the franchise toward the future with the hiring of David Caldwell as general manager and Gus Bradley as head coach. The theme has gained steam this offseason, and on Tuesday's first day of OTAs…

Well, it may not have been the euphoria of the rookie camp earlier this month, but there was a feeling of wanting to see what's next, of looking forward to getting started for real – or as for real as is allowed under NFL offseason rules.

"It was good to get back out there," said guard Zane Beadles, who signed as an unrestricted free agent from Denver in early March. "We've been trying to learn the offense as much as we can, but there's nothing like getting out there in a trial by fire, and something closer to real football. It was good."

Indeed, if there was a theme on OTA Day One, that may have been it: the feel of a group not only ready to do this kind of work, but glad to finally be done waiting to do so.

"I see the energy," said defensive end Red Bryant, who played for the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks last season and who signed with the Jaguars as a free agent in early March. "I see the excitement the football team has. I just want to be a part of it. Whatever I can do to help this team be successful, that's what I want to do."

Bryant is one of a slew of new free agents in OTAs. Running back Toby Gerhart. Defensive end Chris Clemons. Beadles. Bryant. Wide receiver Tandon Doss. Defensive tackle Ziggy Hood. All signed in the offseason and all could have key roles next season.

That's a lot of new, and if you add in a rookie class that includes Bortles and Receivers of the Future Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, that's a ton of new everywhere at a ton of high-profile positions.

That much new makes the next few weeks an important time for the Jaguars. While players can't hit in OTAs, they can work 11-on-11, and the more learning about one another on and off the field that takes place in May and June the further ahead the team will be come July and August.

Players and coaches know that will be a process, and one that will play out over time. And while Tuesday's closed practice didn't have the fan-induced energy of the team's recent open-to-the-public rookie camp, the energy in the locker room Tuesday was real.

This is a team ready to get the process started, a team ready to get to work. It took the latest step in that process Tuesday, another day where there was no dampering allowed at EverBank Field.

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