JACKSONVILLE – David Caldwell likes a lot about what he's seeing.
Entering his third season as the Jaguars' general manager, Caldwell sees more depth and more front-line talent – basically just a flat-out better roster than the past two seasons.
But Caldwell said what he likes more than anything as the Jaguars prepare for Wednesday's first 2015 training camp practice in full pads is a feel he gets from the team – not just from a slew of free agents, but from core of returning young players.
"I really like the energy of our team," Caldwell said during a meeting Tuesday at EverBank Field with a small group of local writers. "I like the way they've kind of come together. Even with the influx of guys we've brought in, it's a tight locker room and a tight team."
The Jaguars have won seven games in two seasons under Caldwell and Head Coach Gus Bradley, opting for a building plan in which the team largely eschewed free agency during the first two offseasons while focusing on the draft. Caldwell reiterated on Tuesday the plan during that time was to first find a franchise quarterback – which the team believes it has done in second-year veteran Blake Bortles – then build more aggressively around that player.
"I feel like most of the moves we've made have made this team better, even if it's by just a little bit," Caldwell said. "They all haven't worked out in terms of production, but I think as we continue to go it can all come together. The thing for this team right now is there are a lot of unknowns. We feel good, but they don't have that equity in the bank."
The Jaguars this offseason made a significantly more intense foray into free agency, signing players such as tight end Julius Thomas, defensive end Jared Odrick and right tackle Jermey Parnell.
The addition of that class, along with the development of the team's first two draft classes – and a rookie class that includes running back T.J. Yeldon – has many around the Jaguars optimistic for on-field improvement.
Caldwell on Tuesday said he shared that optimism, though he said he remains reluctant to project wins and losses.
"This year is different. We have young guys we feel good about. It's a different feel for sure."
Caldwell said from an athleticism, size and speed standpoint he sees significant improvement in the roster from his first two seasons.
"I think it's appreciably different," Caldwell said.
And while the first two seasons haven't been easy, remaining united with Bradley and the coaching staff on the right way to build a long-term competitive winner has made it a rewarding experience.
"We're not stubborn about it, but we haven't wavered, so it has been good," Caldwell said. "It has been really challenging, but I think greater days are ahead for sure. Coming into this year this is the best I've felt about our team and our coaching staff. It's really good."
Four days into training camp and the intensity continues to increase. Here are some of the player thoughts so far as their grind increases.
Caldwell also on Tuesday addressed:
*Sen'Derrick Marks, saying the veteran defensive tackle likely will practice at least a week before making his 2015 debut after reconstructive knee surgery in January. Marks, who has said he hopes to return for the regular-season opener against Carolina September 13, is on the physically unable to perform list. Though he can be removed from PUP at any time, if he is on the list when the regular season begins he must remain there for the first six games. "We're going to be wise with Sen'Derrick," Caldwell said, adding that Marks won't play if there is any belief he is at greater risk than before surgery. …
*James Sample, saying the rookie safety will be reevaluated early next week and that the expectation is Sample can begin practicing the week of the third preseason game (August 28). Sample is on the PUP list with a broken arm sustained during organized team activities. …
*Toby Gerhart, saying the veteran running back looks quicker and faster than he did last season. Gerhart was hampered much of last season with a foot injury after signing as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason. "I think Toby's going to help us a lot this year," Caldwell said. …
*Luke Joeckel, saying the third-year left tackle "looks a lot bigger and sturdier" this season and is using his hands "a lot better." Caldwell added that while Joeckel has had some consistency issues, he has "played good football, too. I think he's going to be just fine." …
*Johnathan Cyprien, calling the third-year veteran "a very good strong safety in this league" and noting that Cyprien has averaged 100 tackles in two NFL seasons. "He has played at a high level," Caldwell said. "I don't know why anybody would be discouraged with the way he's played the first two years. I think he's very good." …
*The idea that it's difficult to recruit free agents to Jacksonville, saying the notion is incorrect. "Generally speaking, a lot of agents --- I don't think they were scared to send their players to Jacksonville," Caldwell said. "It's starting to turn almost the other way." …
*Denard Robinson, saying he continues to believe in third-year running back. "Denard is one of those players, every time he steps on the field he's getting better," he said. "The more opportunities he has, the more successful he's going to be." ….