(This is the third of a series of stories to run this month on young Jaguars players who began developing in 2014 as the future of the franchise.)
JACKSONVILLE – Brandon Linder wouldn't say he was thrilled with his season.
The Jaguars' offensive guard also is quick to tell you he has a lot of work to do – and a long way to go –before he could get close to being happy with himself as an NFL player.
But as a rookie this past season he did accomplish a few things:
He established himself as an NFL player. He showed himself he could play professional football.
And he got a decent handle on where he needs to improve and how to approach the NFL on a game-by-game, week-by-week basis.
And Linder said all in all that made this season a pretty good start.
"The big thing was I wanted to come in, take it day by day, make a routine and not look too far ahead," Linder said recently. "I think that's the big thing, that you don't overwhelm yourself – and that's the advice I got from the vets.
"That's the big thing, creating a routine, taking it day by day and doing what you do every day."
Linder didn't use that approach to just "get through" a rookie season.
He used it to take over the Jaguars' starting right guard position, and to play well enough there to establish himself as one of the team's better offensive linemen and a potential long-term starter on the interior of the offensive line.
Linder, a third-round selection from the University of Miami, may have been the Jaguars' best offensive lineman this season. And if he wasn't the best, he was in the conversation.
"We were pretty pleased with getting him out of the draft, but I didn't realize he'd be this consistent and the toughness that he brings," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said when discussing Linder late in the 2014 season.
Bradley said not only was Linder consistent – particularly for a rookie – he quickly established a presence in the team's offensive line room.
The Jaguars' line – and indeed the entire offense – was young this season. Linder was among four rookies or second-year players to start much of the season on the line, and the Jaguars also started three rookie wide receivers, a second-year running back and a rookie quarterback a significant portion of the season.
Within that young environment, Bradley said Linder exhibited maturity.
"He's a guy I think they all look to and can feel his leadership," Bradley said. "I think he'll be a really strong leader in that room for years to come. I think he's learning it now, but just how he's handled himself … I'm really, really pleased with his progress."
Linder, after working with the backups early in the offseason and sharing time with veteran Jacques McClendon at right guard in organized team activities, moved into the starting lineup in preseason and started 15 of 16 games. He missed one game – the team's loss to Dallas at Wembley Stadium in London in Week 10 – with a shoulder injury.
He also performed as consistently as any member of the Jaguars' line, earning a 16.6 grade from Pro Football Focus. That made him the Jaguars' highest-ranked offensive player by the website, and he graded out with eight positive games and three negatives.
Linder said one "obvious" objective in the offseason is the same facing most of the offensive line: to get bigger and stronger. He said he will be in the weight room soon – after a brief break for hunting and fishing.
"Now, I know what to expect and what to train for at this level now," he said. "I'm excited to elevate my offseason training, and specifically train for what I need to do."
And Linder said, yes, he showed himself as a rookie that he can play effectively at the NFL level – but as far as the future … well, in a very real sense he must continue approaching his career in the only way he knows how.
"I don't look too far ahead, but it's something where now that I've played a year, I do say, 'I can do this,'" he said. "Now, the question is, 'How do I get better? How do I strive to get better? How do I elevate my game?' Of course at the beginning you're wondering if you can play and wondering what's going to happen and what it's all about. It's the unexpected.
"Now, I know what to expect and I know what I can do better, so I'm looking forward to that even more."