Now is here. It arrived Saturday morning when the Jaguars began a training camp they hope will send them into a second consecutive playoff season and a whole lot more.
The Jaguars' slogan for the 2008 season is "Believe in Now." It's a season for which expectations are high. Some have gone so far as to predict an AFC title for the Jaguars. Certainly, goal number one is a division title.
All of that is heady stuff for a team that has won one playoff game in the last eight years. At his camp-opening address to his team on Friday, coach Jack Del Rio cautioned his players against letting the hype go to their heads.
"We talked last night about what this team might be able to do," Del Rio said following Saturday morning's practice, a shorter-than-usual session necessitated by lower-than-usual roster numbers. "The message is that conversation is nice but it doesn't affect the hard work that has to go into being a good football team," Del Rio added.
Del Rio showed a video that included the top teams in the AFC. The Patriots, Colts, Steelers and Chargers were featured in that video.
"People are saying great things about them, too," Del Rio said.
"I feel we're right up there with the best of them," quarterback David Garrard said. "We have to make sure we keep playing at a high level and be one of those teams that's mentioned year after year."
Garrard is at the center of the Jaguars' lofty expectations this season. He came out of nowhere in last year's training camp to put himself among the top passers in the league. What's next for Garrard?
"I'm at that point in my career that I should be playing at a different level," he said. "Last year was a great time but it's time to move on. We can't just think that we can show up on the field and have a great year."
This day a year ago, the Jaguars had 87 players on their roster. For the opening practice of this training camp, 73 players practiced, first-round draft choice Derrick Harvey remains unsigned, five players (Reggie Williams, George Wrighster, Jerry Porter, Jeremy Mincey and Chad Nkang) are on the physically unable to perform list, and Fred Taylor and Mike Walker did not practice.
"Our numbers are down. We'll have to work around it," Del Rio said.
Williams is said to have a slight knee sprain. Del Rio said Williams is expected to begin running on Sunday and "should be back at practice in the next couple of days."
Taylor was excused to attend the funeral for the father of long-time friend and NFL cornerback Samari Rolle, and Walker will be limited to one practice a day and he was expected to participate in Saturday evening's practice.
"We're in training camp. Training camp is tough. There are 12 fewer bodies so we have to make adjustments to the script," Del Rio said.
The script on day one was all about high hopes. It's the same script the Jaguars have carried through the offseason since their impressive showing late last season.
"As men, you can be what you set your mind on. As a football team, the same rule applies. Aside from God and family, there should be nothing more important than what we're doing here," Del Rio said.