The energy is still strong.
The vibe is good, confidence is high, and as defensive tackle Terrance Knighton will tell you, the Jaguars believe beyond a doubt they are going about things the right way.
But when the Jaguars play the Houston Texans on Sunday in the 2012 regular-season home opener –an AFC South game, a rivalry game and a big game whatever the site – Knighton said there's something needed to make that confidence, vibe and energy complete:
"Ultimately, working hard is cool, practicing hard is cool . . . " Knighton said as the Jaguars (0-1) prepared to play AFC South-leading Houston (1-0) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.
"All that type stuff is cool, but ultimately, you do that to win. You don't do that to say you worked hard. Ultimately, you want to win. You can go 0-16 and be the hardest-working team in the NFL, but ultimately, that doesn't matter.
"The validation should show in your record. That's what we're working toward."
The Jaguars, after a 3-1 preseason, rallied from a late 20-15 deficit to take a 23-20 lead in the final minute before losing in overtime, 26-23, to Minnesota.
"No heads were hung low last week," safety Dawan Landry said. "We're just trying to build and showcase the Jaguars. We lost last week, but we had a lot of bright spots. We want to go out this week, showcase what we've been doing and come out with a victory."
Jaguars players talked throughout the offseason about a positive new direction under new Head Coach Mike Mularkey, and they said this week that feeling remains strong.
"We've put a lot of work in over the last six months, dating back to offseason workouts," Jaguars guard Uche Nwaneri said. "You want some validation. That's what every team in the NFL is working for, because of the work we put in. Guys are ready. All that's left for us to do is transfer what we've done to the field and continue to grow and get wins to validate what we've done.
"We're here to show our city that we're here to make noise."
A victory Sunday would be more than validation. A victory Sunday would not only give them a victory over a team many favor to win a second AFC South title and push for a Super Bowl appearance, it would move them into a tie for first place in the AFC South two weeks into the season.
The Texans lead the division after a season-opening victory over Miami, with the Jaguars losing the opener to Minnesota, the Colts losing to Chicago and Tennessee losing to New England.
"We win this game and we're 1-0 in the division," Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey said. "We have to win that division to get where we need to go."
That the game also is the 2012 regular-season home opener means it's the first regular-season home game since Mularkey took over as head coach and since Shad Khan took over as owner. While the Jaguars lost the opener, an offense that ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season looked significantly better, with second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert passing for a career-high 260 yards and two touchdowns.
The Jaguars will enter the game with uncertainties along the offensive line, and on defense. Guard Eben Britton is uncertain and tackle Cameron Bradfield is out because of ankle injuries, meaning rookie Mike Brewster and veteran Guy Whimper could start at left guard and right tackle, respectively, and with linebacker Daryl Smith out, third-year veteran Kyle Bosworth is expected to start a second consecutive game.
Cornerback Derek Cox worked on a limited basis this week and he is listed as questionable, but while running back Rashad Jennings (knee) will miss Sunday after starting the opener, Maurice Jones-Drew – the NFL's leading rusher – practiced full for a second consecutive week, and likely will be closer to full strength.
Jones-Drew, a Pro Bowl selection the past three seasons, rushed for 77 yards on 19 carries against Minnesota a week after ending a 38-day holdout. Mularkey said this week Jones-Drew will have a heavier workload.
As for Jones-Drew, he said he's ready for an increased load whatever the circumstance, and he said the circumstances around Sunday's game adds "a bunch."
"Obviously it's against Houston," Jones-Drew said. "Everyone knows that we don't like each other so it's going to be a fun game, a very physical game. There will be some extra juice in the stadium."
Said Knighton, "We're looking forward to playing them, to see where our team stands. This is a great way to start off, a division opponent. What better way to set the stage than against a team that's favored to win the division and be in the Super Bowl?"
And while many around the Jaguars have spent time this week talking about injuries, and the chance to change perception with a victory, the players playing the game will tell you that what's important is it's a division game. And when you have a chance for that division game to put you in first place, that's importance enough.
"We're focused on the Texans," Gabbert said. "It's crucial. Having a division game so early on makes it fun and interesting. These games are extremely competitive. You have to win the division first to go to the playoffs, so having this opportunity to play them out of the get-go, it's going to be fun."