JACKSONVILLE – It felt like the regular season at EverBank Field Wednesday.
That meant it felt like a real game coming up Sunday. Considering the circumstances around the upcoming season, that meant real energy, real anticipation and real excitement when Jaguars players discussed Sunday's 2016 regular-season opener.
How much improved are the Jaguars?
How ready are the players?
They'll start finding out for sure against the Green Bay Packers Sunday at EverBank at 1 p.m., but to listen to players Wednesday, the answer to the first question is players believe they're very improved.
And the answer to the second is they hardly could be more ready.
"I'm not one for predictions and all of that stuff, but I'm confident that the product we're putting out there Sunday is better than what we've had any year since I've been here – since probably '07," veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis said Wednesday. "It's very competitive, and the fight is there."
Lewis, a 2006 first-round draft selection by the Jaguars and the longest-tenured player on the roster, was referring to the team's 2007 Wild Card season. That was the last time the team made the postseason. The Jaguars' roster this season is considered perhaps the best since that season, and players on Wednesday agreed.
The Jaguars in the offseason signed several projected defensive starters and/or front-line players as unrestricted free agents, including defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara. They also drafted projected starters/contributors in cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Myles Jack, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue and defensive tackle Sheldon Day.
That's a lot of new, and veterans said it's a lot of good new.
"I think we have the right pieces here," defensive tackle Roy Miller III said. "I know it has been said before, but every single position – specifically defensively, we have depth that has been pushing players to play at a higher level. That's a key factor. We've brought in great players, and I'm just excited. I think this [Sunday] is a great opportunity to go up against a great offense and I like those types of challenges."
Offensively, tight end Julius Thomas said the expectations are equally high.
"Being a fan of the game and having played this game for a while, to look at our offensive personnel – it's pretty scary," Thomas said. "We have a ton of talent. That's something that's unique. We should and we have to take advantage of it.
"Our goal is to our own our division. We want to win the division and get into the tournament. That's what it's all about. In order to do that, were going to have to have a lot of guys step up.
"If everybody does what they can do, we're going to be hard to slow down."
READY AND ABLE
Miller said he's ready to start against the Packers Sunday. Miller, the team's veteran nose tackle and a key to the team's run defense, missed the last three preseason games with a quad issue. "It was important," Miller said of the three weeks off. "I had a quad strain and more than anything I got a chance to get back and watch this team develop. I got a lot of mental reps, but it helped me. I feel good physically and I'm excited about Sunday."
Jack doesn't yet know his role Sunday, but he said he'll be ready for whatever it entails. Jack, a rookie second-round linebacker from UCLA, played second-team middle linebacker in the team's first three preseason games then started at weak-side linebacker Week 4 in a game in which the team did not play it starters. Jack has looked good in preseason, and while Head Coach Gus Bradley on Monday said Jack certainly will play a special teams role his Week 1 defensive role is less certain. "Today is Wednesday, so I have no clue," Jack said. "There's a lot of stuff I still have to pick up. …. They're making sure I know both Mike [middle] and Will [weakside]. That's where I'm at. That's what they told me to do. As far as defense, obviously [weakside backer] Telvin [Smith] and Poz [middle linebacker Paul Posluszny] are the starters –as they should be. If something were to happen, I have to be ready to come in for a play or two and get them right." Defensive coordinator Todd Wash on Wednesday said Jack will have a role defensively Sunday that will be finalized later in the week.
"I can feel the sense of urgency at the walkthrough [Wednesday morning]. Things are moving faster. Time is of the essence. We play a game Sunday, so it's moving faster."
"I'm 100 percent ready. I have a little more preparing to do, but I'm 100 percent ready."
--Ramsey on his first NFL regular-season game