JACKSONVILLE – Calais Campbell’s faith remains strong.
His outlook for the future does, too.
“We have the potential still,” the 11th-year All-Pro defensive end said Monday, a day after the Jaguars closed the 2018 regular season and began looking to the future.
That future features many questions.
Among those questions: Campbell’s future. Campbell, who led the Jaguars with 10.5 sacks in 2018, is among several Jaguars veterans with high salary-cap figures whose future with the team is uncertain entering the offseason. Campbell said he believes he will return.
Perhaps less clear: the Jaguars futures of former Pro Bowl selections such as linebacker Telvin Smith, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, defensive tackle Malik Jackson and safety Tashaun Gipson. All will be storylines in an offseason that – like any NFL offseason – begins with uncertainty.
The Jaguars also likely will face an offseason question regarding quarterback Blake Bortles, who started the first 11 games of the season and the final game, but who spent four games – Weeks 13-16 – backing up Cody Kessler.
“The only thing guaranteed in this game is change,” Campbell said. “It’s 100 percent, but I think we have a great nucleus of guys. Hopefully, there won’t be a lot of change and we’ll be able to go out and do some good things.”
One certainty is the Jaguars’ leadership trio of General Manager David Caldwell, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Tom Coughlin and Head Coach Doug Marrone will return. Owner Shad Khan announced that at the end of Sunday’s 20-3 loss to the Houston Texans in the 2018 regular-season finale.
“After what happened last year to this year, you don’t want to change coaches,” said defensive tackle Abry Jones, who along with long snapper Carson Tinker is the team’s most-tenured player. “I feel like we can get back there with the staff we had, with the guys we had. Everything’s not going to go your way.”
The Jaguars, after winning the AFC South in the 2017 season and advancing to the AFC Championship Game, won three of their first four games this season before losing 10 of their last 12 to finish 5-11 – last in the AFC South.
“There’s a lot to learn from this year as a whole – all the different things we went through,” Campbell said. “There’s so much talent on this team. But obviously you saw this year, talent doesn’t really mean much. Its’s execution that’s going to take the floor. When we hit the reset button, we have a chance to go out and do something special next year.”
Little went the Jaguars’ way offensively in 2018. At least six offensive starters finished the season on injured reserve, and a unit that ranked sixth in the NFL in total yards last season ranked 27thin the NFL in 2018. The team started its eighth offensive line combination against Houston, a game in which the offense produced six first downs and 119 total yards.
The defense, after ranking second in the NFL in yards allowed last season, ranked fifth in the category this season – its third consecutive season ranked in the Top 10.
“We didn’t play up to the level I wanted us to play on defense,” Campbell said. “We showed flashes and played great ball at times, but it wasn’t consistent enough. Whoever’s going to be back, we have to lock in and realize our potential. I still think we can be a very special defense with the guys who should be coming back, but at the end of the day you don’t know who’s coming back.”
As players packed their belongings and cleaned out their lockers Monday, the knowledge of how the season started and how it ended left little remaining to say.
“Really, it’s a lot of good-byes,” Campbell said. “You’ve got to take a few days off, decompress and then start taking care of our body and figure out what you need to do so we can better ourselves going forward. …
“Unless you win the big game (Super Bowl) you feel terrible. This year, it’s a lot of disappointment. We had high expectations. We didn’t deliver. It’s the same mentality. We’ve got to regroup and get better next year.”
Said Jones, “The season’s over. Some people are ready to go some people are mad about the season. You just have to come back stronger. You get some time off. You get to watch these playoff games, and see how we were there, how we’re not there and how much you want to get back. I think that put the fire back in people and we’ll be ready to go when we get back.”
*Both Campbell and Jones were asked about the situation surrounding running backs Leonard Fournette and T.J. Yeldon, whose sideline behavior Sunday was called “selfish, disrespectful” and “conduct unbecoming of a professional football player” by Coughlin in a statement. “I’m never going to try to control another man,” Jones said. “I’m going to try to go out and play my game. If he’s not interested in the game, he needs to tell the coaches. If the coaches see it, they need to do their job, I guess. To me, that’s got nothing to with me. I was playing. I was locked in. I wish it could have gone different, but I can’t control someone else.” Campbell’s and Fournette’s lockers have been side by side at TIAA Bank Field the past two seasons. “He’s a good person at heart, and wants to be a good player,” Campbell said. “This is a unique situation, so I believe he’s going to continue to mature and hopefully be who we need him to be.”