A year ago, Dwight Lowery wouldn't have imagined this.
Then again, this time last year Lowery said what he knew about the Jaguars came down to the team's reputation and its uniform color – that and the presence of a certain Pro Bowl running back.
Fast forward a year, and Lowery now is a core player on one of the league's most improved defenses. As of Friday, it's official he will remain that way.
As Lowery sees it, that's a very productive year.
"That's how the NFL works," Lowery said Friday, shortly after he officially signed a contract with the Jaguars that reports indicate is worth $13.6 million over four years.
"The only thing I really knew about Jacksonville was they had (running back) Maurice Jones-Drew, and my (former New York Jets) teammate Drew Coleman was there. For whatever reasons, the Jaguars don't get a lot of respect around the nation."
In that sense, Lowery said the union is a fitting one.
"That's what I've been reaching for my whole career and that's what I feel like Jacksonville is reaching for, too – that respect," he said.
The Jaguars' defense moved in that direction last season – in part, because Lowery did, too.
Lowery, a fourth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft by the Jets, was acquired by the Jaguars in a trade shortly before last season for what became a seventh-round selection in next month's draft. He played the first two games as a reserve, then started 11 of the final 14 games of the season.
He finished the season with 47 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defenses, and many considered him an important factor in the Jaguars improving from 28th in the NFL in total defense in 2010 to sixth overall in 2011.
"Dwight is an ascending player," Jaguars defensive coordinator/assistant head coach Mel Tucker said. "He has a good combination of size and athleticism. He has a very deep understanding of the game of football which is important to have in the back end of your defense."
Tucker said the combination of Lowery and Dawan Landry – acquired as a free agent early in training camp – solidified the safety position. Landry, as he had been in Baltimore, brought the Jaguars a physical presence at safety, and Lowery brought strong coverage ability to the middle of the field.
"Between him and Dawan Landry, they can direct traffic back there and make the adjustments that need to be made," Tucker said, adding of Lowery, "He's still a young player and I think he's coming into his own in this system. He's being counted upon to be a core guy and he's stepping up to that so I think his ceiling is still high."
The Jaguars also this past week re-signed not only defensive end Jeremy Mincey, but linebacker Russell Allen and defensive tackle C.J. Mosley, re-signings Lowery said are critical to maintaining momentum built last season.
"We have a lot of good pieces in the puzzle in place," Lowery said. "You always want to keep the talent you have and add talent to what it is we created on defense. We've been doing that. Part of that is getting our own guys back."
While Lowery adapted to the change in environment last year, and while he contributed and helped the team improve in his first season, he also said he expects more next season.Whereas last season there was an adjustment period early in the season, Lowery said he is more comfortable with teammates and the system, a comfort he said should means a higher level of play.
Lowery also said another factor should help him and the entire defense improve.
Lowery was far from the only defensive player acquired shortly before last season. While he arrived eight days before the opener, nickelback Drew Coleman, linebackers Clint Session and Paul Posluszny and Landry also arrived less than six weeks before the start of the season.
The added preparation time, Lowery said, can only help.
"We'll have an offseason, and in the off-season you can kind of show more of what you can do," Lowery said. "There are some things I can do that I wasn't necessarily put in a position to do last year because our preparation time was so short. It was like, 'OK, he can do this, this and this – let's go out and do it.'
"I feel like with OTAs and minicamps and things of that nature, I'll be able to show what I can do. I've been working with people in the off-season I haven't worked with before. I've really stepped up my training, physically and mentally and I think that's going to show on the football field as well."
Lowery said that's his task at hand, and as of Friday, with his contract signed and future determined, it's one on which he said he can now concentrate full-time.
"I'm glad it (the free agency process) is over from the standpoint of my family, and it's a place I'm familiar with as well," Lowery said. "Now, I can focus on getting better and helping this football team win a championship."