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Happy players return

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The feeling returned easily and quickly, and to Rashean Mathis, it was a good one.

Mathis along with a slew of his Jaguars teammates returned to EverBank Field Tuesday for physicals, meetings and all of the things that need to be done before an NFL training camp can begin, and on the first day after the 136-day NFL lockout, smiles and happiness set the tone.

The NFL, after a long absence that halted much of the off-season, was back. At last.

And Mathis couldn't have been happier.

"We're back here," Mathis, the Jaguars' nine-year veteran cornerback, said during a press conference late Monday morning at EverBank Field.

"Everybody's smiling. Everybody's happy to be back. Everybody's happy to see each other walking through the gate. That's something you miss. You don't realize you miss it until you don't have it. That's an exciting process for us and we're ready to play football."

The NFL Owners and players ended their off-season labor dispute Monday afternoon, and by late Monday, it was evident at EverBank the league had resumed operations. The front-office and coaching staff spent a hectic Monday evening negotiating with undrafted rookie free agents, and by early Tuesday, veteran players began arriving at the facility.

"We're glad to be back," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "All of the stuff that happened over the last couple of months, while it was not the most appealing thing, it was a necessary part. The great thing is now we don't have to focus on that. We can focus on the momentum created by having football back."

Added Kampman, "It was a serious time and there was a lot at stake. That's why today is such a great day to celebrate. There was a tremendous amount at stake for everyone involved in the entire NFL industry -- players, clubs, fans, everyone."

Kampman, like Mathis a Jaguars representative with the NFL Players Association, also like Mathis spoke of camaraderie and excitement.

"We're all hugging and smiling in there, getting ready to start football tomorrow," Kampman said. "That's an exciting thing for our team, to start building toward a championship."

Mathis and Kampman each spoke of the importance of not having an opt-out clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiated by players and owners. The lack of an opt-out means NFL labor peace for the next 10 seasons.

"Both sides realized that having the possibility of going through this in another five or six years would not be good for the game," Mathis said. "We have a 10-year contract and we don't have to worry about anything interrupting the game. I think that's huge."

Kampman said from his perspective, Jaguars players "made a positive out of something that could have been a negative."

"I think our team chemistry is extremely strong," Kampman said. "Our team chemistry and unity right now is extremely strong. We've had more communication this off-season, because it has been player-motivated and player-directed, than any off-season I've been a part of. I think that has tremendous possibilities for paying off down the line."

Mathis and Kampman each praised the fans for patience during the process.

"We'd like to tilt our hats to them for sticking through it and patting us on the back as we went through it," Mathis said.

Jaguars players are expected to officially report Wednesday, with training camp scheduled to begin Thursday.

"It's been a process, but I think at the end of the day, both sides are pleased with what came out of it," Mathis said. "I think we united, and we showed strong and we showed a lot of unity."

And while Mathis said the players as a group didn't feel rushed into ratifying the agreement, he said it wouldn't be fair to say there was no pressure during the process.

"When you're dealing with what was at stake to be lost, there's always going to be pressure," Mathis said. "But was it rushed? We don't feel like it was rushed. We did know something at stake could be lost. Did we want to lose it? No, but we weren't going to agree to something that wasn't fair. That was the main thing."

Kampman said from his perspective, there was little mystery about the timing of the agreement.

"This is a deadline league," Kampman said. "Everyone in the back of their mind kind of knew this is the time training camp starts and we better try to get something done by them. I think both sides recognized that. Obviously, we pushed it right to the deadline and it's done."

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