JACKSONVILLE – It's here – for real. At last.
The dead zone is over; the offseason program, long since gone. The Florida Blue Health and Wellness Practice Fields are clean, mowed and painted, and the 90 Jaguars whose futures will begin again Friday on those fields reported to 2013 Training Camp at EverBank Field on Thursday.
The hallways were clean. New logos adorned the walls.
A state-of-the-art upgrade to the training facility and weight room was freshly completed shortly before the players' arrival Thursday – to go along with the state-of-the-art locker room upgrade put in place last season.
New coaching staff, new front office, new logo . . .
A largely new roster . . .
A new era.
"I'm just glad it finally feels like it's here," safety Dwight Lowery said.
That was the mood around EverBank Field Thursday, that while any training camp brings with it high hopes and a fresh start, the hopes for this fresh start are maybe a little higher than usual.
"Unlike years before, there are absolutely no egos on the team –- I mean, none," Jaguars left tackle Eugene Monroe said. "There's an energetic atmosphere. Everybody's excited to work. Last year, we had a little bit of that, but there's just a different feeling. I'm sure you've heard people explain that before, but there's something different about being in the building these days."
Quarterbacks and rookies reported Monday, and spent much of the week in meetings, preparing. This day, Thursday, was about the veterans doing what the rookies and quarterbacks did Monday.
Physicals. Conditioning tests.
Doing all of the non-football stuff to get ready for the football stuff that begins Friday.
And as they did that stuff, the talk was of the season just ahead. That was the focus, not the 2-14 season just past, and not even the offseason that followed – an offseason of turnover and readjustment. That's the past, and for the 90 that reported Thursday, the past is very much that.
The future is the future, and because first-year Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley is a man whose philosophy is very much tied to the present – the immediate moment – that's where the thoughts were of the veterans who reported Thursday.
Bradley since his hiring in January has worked to establish his philosophy. He has preached competition and getting better, and it's what he will continue to preach. He'll preach it because to him, it's not preaching. It's who he is, why he is here, what he believes, and it's the foundation on which he has built his coaching philosophy.
He honed it for four seasons under Pete Carroll in Seattle, and now he gets to do what he has long wanted to do – teach it, implement it to his own team, to his own guys.
But while Bradley preaches with a smile, and while his enthusiasm is infectious, players know full well that this is a time of transition, that competition means no job is safe, and that by the end of the preseason, a roster that already has undergone significant change will undergo even more.
That makes the coming weeks, the camp practices in pads, the preseason games . . .
Well, Bradley's infectious smile notwithstanding, it ain't gonna be easy.
"Once we throw the pads on, I think it will be pretty intense," offensive guard Will Rackley said.
To paraphrase a certain past Jaguars head coach a decade and a half ago, "This is not Club Med." No, this is the NFL, and if the coming weeks are stressful and difficult, then Jaguars veterans will tell you that's OK. It's OK because this franchise needs that, and it's OK because what they saw of Bradley in the offseason told them this is the right direction.
"A lot of guys are looking forward to it," Rackley said. "We feel like it needs to be done, because we've got to win some games, man. It's been too long. We need to get this ball rolling."
Linebacker Russell Allen agreed. "We all welcome it," he said. "We all understand that's the way to get better, to improve."
Lowery was asked what made him optimistic this season. He didn't sugarcoat his response.
"It feels like a professional football team this year as opposed to last year," Lowery said. "A lot of things around here have been renovated. Here, it feels like everything is (being) handled in a professional environment. You know what to expect when you step into the building."
Allen was asked the same question, and said while he wanted to be original, when he thinks about this season he keeps thinking about what he and teammates have been saying for months.
"I'm excited because there's a renewed energy," Allen said. "I know that's a word that's overused right now, but it's just the truth. It's different than I've experienced in four years prior. I don't know that I can explain it any different other than there's a unique energy and a level of excitement we haven't had in the past."
Now, that past is very much the past, if it wasn't already. For that matter, the offseason is, too, and all of the preparation, studying and offseason conditioning were in a very real sense a prelude for what is to come in the coming weeks.
Competition in the offseason is one thing. The coming weeks will be quite another. Now, it matters. Now, jobs will be won and lost. Now, we will see day-by-day Bradley shaping the Jaguars into his image. It won't always be easy, but it will be fascinating and it will shape the franchise's future.
The new era is here – for real. At last.