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A haircut and a new era


Timing aside, Blaine Gabbert didn't see the big deal.

"It's just hair," he said.

But on Tuesday, the first day of the Jaguars' three-day veteran orientation at EverBank Field – a day in which players talked of new beginnings and setting tones – there was something not entirely insignificant about the second-year quarterback's hair:

A lot of it was no longer there.

Gabbert, known partly for his long blonde hair as a rookie, reported for the first day of the voluntary mini-camp with his hair cut short. And while he didn't see it as symbolic or even all that noteworthy, it was an oft-discussed topic on the team's first day of on-field work under new Head Coach Mike Mularkey.

"That was a surprise to me this morning," Jaguars center Brad Meester said with a smile. "I had heard that, but I did not believe it until I saw him."

Meester said he spotted Gabbert walking the hall at Everbank with a hat Tuesday morning.

"I asked him to take the hat off and it was a surprise, yes," Meester said, laughing. "I had to introduce myself at first, then I realized it was him."

While Gabbert downplayed the significance, Meester said there was meaning.

"That has been his signature," Meester said. "For him to cut that, had to be a lot. That continues to show the type of commitment he has to this team, how hard he's been working and how committed he is to it. I think that's a true statement to the type of guy he is."

Gabbert's hair was far from the only change around EverBank Tuesday, and far from the only evidence of a new beginning.

Early in practice, Meester gathered the team near the end zone of the middle practice field and spoke to the team briefly, emphasizing finishing plays in practice and practicing with proper demeanor.

Meester said Mularkey had preached finishing and playing hard during the team meeting that morning.

"For me, for this team, that means today," Meester said. "It doesn't really mean starting in August or September when we open up. It starts now. Our season starts now. We have to set the right tone right away so that it becomes a habit.

"That was important to me, because I feel like if we do those things and if we set that type of fundamental from here on out – our goal is to win a championship and to be able to do that, that's what you have to do from Day One.

"I'm here to win a championship. That's what it's all about. To do that, it starts now. Not later. When you start later, it's too late. Somebody has a leg up you. I thought we got off to a great start today and we're going to continue to do that throughout the rest of the year."

Mularkey said "together" will be a constant theme around the Jaguars, and that each practice will start with a team member speaking to the team gathered together. Practices will also end with the team gathered in a group. Meester, as the most-tenure player, was the fitting choice to be the first veteran to speak, Mularkey said.

"He's a good guy to start an off-season program with a new staff and new ideas," Mularkey said.

Mularkey said he also spoke to the team Tuesday morning about the past being the past.

"It's all about moving forward and getting where we want to go," Mularkey said. "In order to do that, we have to do things the right way. If we do that, we have a chance."

There were other notable moments at Mularkey's first practice. One was the gathering of coaches next to the practice field moments before practice on an "All-In" logo. At 1:15, the designated start time, the coaches ran onto the field together. The coaches did this, Mularkey said, to ensure they would adhere to NFL rules dictating the amount of practice time allowed during the off-season. It also was meant for fun, Mularkey said.

Tight end Marcedes Lewis called the first practice "very intense."

"You can sense it in the building," Lewis said. "Everybody's walking around with smiles on their faces. It's a cliché to say, 'We're moving on,' but we're moving on."

The day was very much the start of a new era. Because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, coaches had been unable to work on the field with players this off-season until this week.

"I know the coaches were anxious to get out there," Mularkey said. "I didn't really how much I needed to be outside until I actually got out there."

Gabbert said he, too, was anxious to get on the field, and that that – not his hair – was his concern. He said he had had long hair for two years, and that it was time for a change. He also said while there may be those who believe the cut symbolic, he said he doesn't believe his hair defined him before or now.

"I'm the same Blaine," said Gabbert, who had his hair cut at tight end Zach Miller's house Monday night. "I don't think hair has anything to do with your personality, or perception. You are who you are regardless of if you have a full beard – which I can't grow – or if you have long hair."

Mostly, Gabbert said what impressed him the most Tuesday was the same thing other coaches and players talked about – that however long his hair was or wasn't, it was a new day around the Jaguars, a day on which a tone was set, and a day for moving forward into a new era.

"It's great," Gabbert said. "Having not been able to not go through the off-season program (last year) and not being able to have a rookie minicamp or any OTAs, this year, it's going to help out a lot. We're going to make a lot of strides right now. We're going to be clicking on all cylinders going into training camp.

"We love what we do here. There was a lot of energy out there."

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