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GM Dave Caldwell: Build progressing as planned

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JACKSONVILLE – David Caldwell isn't shocked. Not even close.

The Jaguars' second-year general manager said he's not even really surprised with the on-field results in his first two seasons with the team, seasons that produced a combined 7-25 record.

Caldwell on Tuesday also said this:

While he understands winning more must happen soon, he very much likes the state of the Jaguars' roster – and that the building process that began in January 2013 is going as planned.

"We're right on par for where we thought we'd be at this point in time," Caldwell said Tuesday morning at his annual season-ending press conference at EverBank Field.

The Jaguars finished this past season – his second and the second with Gus Bradley as head coach – with a 3-13 record. The Jaguars finished 4-12 in 2013.

Caldwell was asked if he was surprised with the 2014 record.

"I wouldn't say I'm very surprised, no," Caldwell said, adding that he had no doubt the process was working.

"This has been our vision," Caldwell said. "We're going to make mistakes. We have to continue to build, get better players and I think our coaching staff can lead us where we want to go."

Caldwell added that he didn't expect significantly better results in his first two seasons, and that Jaguars Owner Shad Khan understood the situation from the beginning. He said the team was more competitive against playoff teams this season, an indication of on-field progress.

"I didn't have grandiose expectations in these first two years, to be quite honest with you," Caldwell said. "We may have won more games than I anticipated when I first took the job over this two-year period."

Caldwell said he believed entering the season the Jaguars would have a chance to win between four and seven games this season.

"I think we had that (chance)," he said. "We didn't capitalize on some of the opportunities. The NFL's a highly competitive league. I'm proud of the way our players played."

Caldwell said he feels better about the roster than the record indicates.

"We can go into this draft and not have to draft a player to come in and start right away," he said. "That was not the situation the last two years."

Caldwell called the last two years, when late-round selections and rookie free agents started early in their rookie seasons, "Not an ideal situation."

"The way we did it has been a little unconventional, but we feel good about the experience we've gotten," Caldwell said. "Now, they have to get better. We have to get better as a team and the results have to be better in the outcome of games."

The Jaguars last offseason revamped the offense, with the result being a lineup that often started three rookie wide receivers, two rookie linemen, a rookie quarterback, two second-year offensive linemen and a second-year running back.

"I probably in hindsight should have had more veteran presence going into this year, where we weren't so forced to play so many rookies right away," Caldwell said. "That's one thing I probably overlooked, was the value of somebody who can just steady the waters in a game. That probably was a little unfair to the rookies and the coaching staff. …

"In hindsight, for the success of the franchise this year, probably some veteran presence would have helped everybody out."

Caldwell said the defense played at a playoff level this season – particularly on third downs – and lauded the defensive line. He said the secondary played well the second half of the season, and he also lauded linebacker Telvin Smith, saying the rookie played the final five games with the potential of a future Pro Bowler.

"Our first year we wanted to find a culture that we wanted to build here – Coach Bradley and his staff have done a great job doing that," he said. "Going into this past season we wanted to identify core players that were going to be here for a long time. We feel like we've done that.

"Going into next year, I think it's going to help make a difference in our roster and it's going to make a difference in the outcome of games."

Also on Tuesday:

*Caldwell on playing rookie quarterback Blake Bortles in the final 14 games of the season: "I think it worked out really well for him." Bortles started the last 13 games and Caldwell said he saw signs of the game slowing down for the No. 3 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft in the final few games of the season. "I give him a ton of credit," Caldwell said. "The kid's got a heart that's unmatched and his competitive desire to compete and win is really good. He's not going to be seeing things for the first time next year." …

*Caldwell addressed the first two selections of the 2013 draft class: Joeckel (first round) and second-round safety Johnathan Cyprien. He said he and the coaching staff believe Cyprien has played well and that Joeckel was set back by a broken ankle sustained as a rookie. "He has played some good football," he said of Joeckel. "I know we look at the sacks he may have given up, but around the NFL left tackles give up sacks. That's what they do." He also said 2013 third-round cornerback Dwayne Gratz "settled down the last eight games." …

*Caldwell said the team would be comfortable starting defensive tackle Ziggy Hood in Sen'Derrick Marks' place to start 2015 if necessary. Marks sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the regular-season finale. Caldwell said the hope is that Marks returns by the start of the regular season.

*Caldwell said the Jaguars are very open to being active in free agency this offseason, and that their level of aggressiveness will depend on the market. He said free agency looks strong at wide receiver and interior defensive line. …

*Caldwell said while the Jaguars could spend significantly in free agency, they will not be forced by league rules to do so. He said if they spend about 95 percent of their salary cap the next two offseasons they will meet the NFL's salary-cap minimum over a four-year period. "We don't necessarily have to spend," Caldwell said. …

*Caldwell said the Jaguars' approach of not spending big money in free agency the past two offseasons has been his and not Khan's. "He will do whatever he can to create a winner here, and it's my job to help him do that," Caldwell said. …

*Caldwell said the offensive line must be addressed in the offseason, adding that the team feels good about Joeckel, center Luke Bowanko and right guard Brandon Linder. He also said left guard Zane Beadles played better as the season continued. He said offensive line coach George Yarno, who missed this past season battling cancer, plans to return next season. "We need to add competition there," Caldwell said. "We need to add some depth. We'll see where it takes us." …

*Caldwell opened his media availability Tuesday thanking Jaguars fans for their "undying support" and said he appreciates their patience and frustration. "I understand it," he said. "We get it. We feel like this season was very challenging because of our decision to go young." …

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