JACKSONVILLE – The changes are real, and they're significant.
That's true of both the offensive and defensive schemes, which makes right now – the ongoing Phase One of the voluntary offseason program and the two phases to come – critically important for the Jaguars.
Head Coach Gus Bradley's buzzwords are "competition" and "getting better."
But to get better, first you have to know what you're doing. And to know what you're doing, you've got to learn the schemes, so what's going around EverBank Field these days essentially boils down to this:
A lot of working out, a lot of meetings and some homework, too.
"We have a lot to learn in a short period of time," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said Tuesday.
Tuesday was day two of week two of the first phase of the offseason program, and if that's confusing, just remember:
Phase One started last week and ends this week. What it's about is conditioning, but it's also about meetings – the first meetings with new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and the offensive players and the first meetings with new defensive coordinator Bob Babich and the defensive players.
That's a whole lot of new since last season, and a whole lot to absorb.
For the offensive players it's the third scheme in as many offseasons, and for the defensive players, it's the first new scheme in at least four seasons, with Mel Tucker having served the last four seasons as defensive coordinator.
"Some of the philosophies are different and all of the language is different, so before we can even think about the philosophies, we have to be able to communicate," linebacker Russell Allen said. "That's what we've been doing the first week or so, is learning all terms and naming formations so we can communicate effectively. We have to spend a ton of time getting used to all the different terms and different philosophies."
Defensive players said it is clear the defense, while still a base 4-3 – four linemen, three linebackers – scheme, will be significantly different. Posluszny said whereas last year's defense was about playing two safeties high, and playing simple and fast, this year's scheme could be feature more man-to-man coverage with changing fronts and different run fits from last season.
"It's different from last year, and it's going to take some extra focus on our part to learn and be sharp," Poslusnzy said. "The reps we will have in OTAs and minicamp are very important."
The Jaguars offensively are moving to a zone-blocking scheme on the line, and wide receiver Cecil Shorts said overall the scheme appears more "player-friendly" than last season.
"We're not doing a billion things before the snap," Shorts said. "Last year, we had a lot of motion and a lot going on before the snap. We've still got a lot going on, but we're able to comprehend it better. It's simplified."
While Allen said there's no such thing as an unimportant offseason, the need to learn quickly and efficiently has added urgency to each phase of this offseason.
The offseason's three-week Phase Two begins with next week's veteran orientation minicamp. That phase features work with coaches on the field, with the work limited to individual player instruction and drills. The four-week Phase Three comes after that, and includes organized team activities – i.e., non-contact team drills. But Allen said any on-field work is important, and the idea is to be as ready as possible for the coming phases.
"It's one thing to sit in a room and hear the terms and feel like you know what's going on, then you get out there and it's full speed," Allen said. "That's why this minicamp next week is so important for us, to get full speed reps on these things we're learning."
Offensive players said the early meeting time is just as important for them. While players this week said the scheme eventually should prove simpler than last year's, the early stages of learning a new terminology and a new approach is never exactly "simple."
"Any time you put in a new system, the hardest thing to pick up is the new terminology," Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri said. "A lot of the scheme may not be so different. As a player, that's not the hard part. It's the same structure, but they change how it sounds. It's a full plate for us, but quarterbacks and receivers have a lot more."
For those that don't, there are certain "ramifications." Players said Fisch has made the learning process fun, with Jeopardy-type games. At the same time, Shorts and Nwaneri said Fisch isn't shy about calling on a player and expecting an answer.
"You have to be on your toes," Shorts said with a smile. "If not, it's a little embarrassing, because you want to show a new staff and new offensive coordinator you're on top of your game."
And that feeling of being on your toes? That's where the homework comes in.
Polsuszny said this time is very much voluntary, but it's very much about being prepared for not only the coming weeks, but the coming season. And with as much information as needs to be processed, it's probably not going to all get done at the stadium.
"You have to go home and review it, because we're being quizzed the next day on it," Posluszny said. "You have to be sharp. When it comes to training camp, we have to be sharp. They expect to be a certain level when it counts."