Mel Tucker made a mark Thursday, and to say there was a new tone and mood around EverBank Field is an understatement.
Tucker, who took over as the Jaguars' interim coach Tuesday following the firing of longtime Head Coach Jack Del Rio, ran his first practice on Thursday, and in the aftermath players unanimously talked of a dramatically different day.
"Coach Tucker came in with the energy I think we needed," running back Maurice Jones-Drew said Thursday as the Jaguars (3-8) prepared to play the San Diego Chargers (4-7) at EverBank Field in downtown Jacksonville Monday at 8:30 p.m.
"He's always about positive energy. He's a real upbeat kind of guy."
Shortly after a crisp noon practice, players spoke to the media, and talked about speed, efficiency and tempo.
"We executed a lot of plays and got drills done early and quickly," rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert said.
"There's good energy in every practice, but that's something Mel emphasize – energy, hustle," guard Uche Nwaneri said. "Those are things we all know as football players and all understand."
The practice finished 18 minutes ahead of schedule, which Tucker said "tells you we had great tempo."
"Overall, I think we got better today," said Tucker, who was is in his third season as defensive coordinator this season and who took over defensive play-calling duties from Del Rio before this season.
"I feel good about what we got done today. I thought we had great tempo."
Tucker set the tone early Thursday by talking during a team meeting about love and discipline, with love meaning love for teammate and for the game and discipline being self explanatory.
Also early in the day, Tucker met with a group of veterans – defensive end Aaron Kampman, linebacker Daryl Smith, wide receiver Kassim Osgood, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, cornerback Rashean Mathis (who attended by teleconference), running back Montell Owens, tight end Marcedes Lewis, center Brad Meester – and asked them to help relay his message to younger teammates.
"You can't do it alone," Tucker said. "My experience is when you hear it from a player a player respects, you see it even more. I saw that today. I didn't feel like I had to pull all the weight."
Tucker arrived at the Jaguars' noon practice at 11:30 a.m., and said the idea was not only to get some fresh air, but to check the weather, the field, the conditions. He worked with punter Nick Harris, the first player on the field, and he said he also wanted to see the players as they reported to practice.
He said he liked what he saw.
"I saw guys eager to get out there and get to work," Tucker said. "I like to tell them what I want. I told them I wanted to be on time. We were that today.
"There were certain things we laid out today in terms of points of emphasis. Obviously, being on time is one of those things. We set the tone in terms of some things we wanted to do. We'll continue to do that. I wanted to be there as the players arrived on the field."
Gabbert said the pace reminded him of practices at the University of Missouri, while players who played for Tucker this season on the NFL's fourth-ranked defense said the tempo and approach was familiar.
"That's the things Coach Tucker stresses," middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "He wants us to be fast tempo and he wants us to practice like that – get on the field, hustle and in all that we do, have discipline. It's his team now, and that's the message he has expressed. Not just the defense."
Del Rio's firing wasn't the only event of the week around the Jaguars. Wide receivers coach Johnny Cox also was fired Wednesday, and quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard now is coaching receivers. Offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is now also coaching quarterbacks, and the Jaguars on Wednesday released starting wide receiver Jason Hill.
"There was a shakeup around here, and with that, you're going to have guys who are focused," wide receiver Mike Thomas said. "You're going to get guys out there, working, hustling, trying to do everything to protect themselves."
Thomas said of the overall change of atmosphere, "I personally like it. You have guys working hard, working right and working in a timely manner. There's not too much idle time where guys sit around. It's good. I think it's going to be good for us. We get in, get out and we're working hard.
"By the time we are done, guys are tired. I think it's a good switchup."
Center Brad Meester said Tucker told players early Thursday pace would be key, with no wasted time or energy.
"It was a very up-tempo practice and that was one thing he stressed that we were going to do – we were going to go drill to drill," Meester said. "You could really feel it out there. There is a lot that has gone on and guys can take it a couple of ways: They can be down on it and just want to get through this or you can say, 'Hey, let's do something about this and get better. That's what guys did today."
Jones-Drew said there was no downtime in practice.
"Mel Tucker is a guy who is about tempo, love and finishing," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "I think we all understand that. I think everybody is looking forward to this opportunity. We believe in Coach Tucker. He's a great guy. We believe in him."
Most players interviewed called it the best practice of the season.
"We knew what to anticipate on defense," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We practice at a high tempo and everybody finishes to the ball. Now, the whole team is seeing what it's like for the defense. He brings great energy to practice and that's what the team needs right now.
"In all, it will make our team better."
Said cornerback Drew Coleman, "It was very energetic, getting back to the basics – it was fun, though."
Tucker said the adjustment from being a defensive coordinator on Monday evening to dealing with his first head coaching position three days later was akin to having a first child.
"At some point, reality sets in and you say, 'Hey, this is something new and it's on me – we've got to get it done. You've got to adjust, focus in and do whatever it takes to get the job done. The great thing is I don't have to do it alone. It's the ultimate team game. It's not just up to one guy.
"That reality set in very quickly. Time stops for no one. You have to get ready to move on to the next challenge. The focus is on, 'We have a game to play.' I consider myself a servant leader. I asked myself, 'What can I do to help this football team? What can I to help the players and coaches get ready for Monday night?' That's where my focus has been."
Tucker added, "Today was a very, very positive day."