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Prep for Vikings is on


The wait is nearly over.

As quarterback Blaine Gabbert and whole lot of others around the Jaguars see it, the time for talking, prognosticating and all offseason and preseason goings on is just about over, too.

It's regular-season opener week. At long last.

"I'm ready personally, and this team's ready to go," Gabbert said late Wednesday morning as the Jaguars began full preparations to play the Minnesota Vikings in the 2012 regular-season opener at the Metrodome in Minneapolis, Minn., Sunday, at 1 p.m.

"We're ready to play for something that matters, and that counts. The game changes in the regular season. It's a lot faster, and a lot of more competitive.

"We're anxious to take part in that."

Such was the mood and tone around EverBank Field Wednesday.

Wednesday in the NFL is the start of game week, and opening-week Wednesdays carry the requisite excitement and enthusiasm that comes with the start of a regular season.

Around the Jaguars, there is added energy. It's the first opening week with Shad Khan as owner, and the first with Mike Mularkey as head coach. It's also the first with a new offense installed by Mularkey and a largely new offensive staff.

"I think our guys want to see where we're at," Mularkey said. "We did some good things in the preseason. We just want to see if we can do it all four quarters. This will be a good test. I think it will be good for us to see where we're at."

The Jaguars went 3-1 in the preseason, looked better offensively than last year, and despite national prognostications to the contrary, the feeling around the locker room is one of optimism and hope.

"The preparation gets ratcheted up, the attention to detail gets ratcheted up," offensive guard Eben Britton said. "The speed of the game, especially opening day – it's going to be a great environment. It's ratcheted up from the preseason, there's no doubt."

There are more storylines around the Jaguars than Khan and Mularkey. Gabbert, who struggled as a rookie, has been significantly more poised and productive in preseason, something that has been helped not insignificantly by the presence of wide receiver Justin Blackmon, the No. 5 overall selection in the NFL Draft.

Blackmon caught 10 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in the preseason after missing the first preseason game following a 10-day holdout, and the team's veteran running back, Maurice Jones-Drew, also was a preseason holdout, missing 38 days.

Jones-Drew reported Sunday, practiced Monday, and although Mularkey said Wednesday it was too early to know how ready Jones-Drew will be Sunday, he said he expects Jones-Drew to play a backup role against the Vikings.

Rashad Jennings, who started all four preseason games, is expected to start, with Jones-Drew initially playing on third downs and a few series.

"That's how it happens," Jones-Drew said Wednesday. "Rashad has been here a couple of months, so I have to get acclimated to the offense. I've got to show them the work and try to get my job back. All I can do is go out and work as hard as I can and show them I'm ready.

"No one's ever given me anything my whole life. I like it. The competition is going to be great."

Jones-Drew's status as backup added to a unique situation around the running backs Sunday. Not only is Jones-Drew's role a new one, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson – a four-time All-Pro selection – missed the preseason rehabilitating from a knee injury that ended his season last year.

The Vikings have yet to announce if Peterson will play Sunday, though he was cleared to participate in full contact practice Wednesday.

"We're going to prepare like he is the guy," Mularkey said.

While Jones-Drew arrived Sunday, he said liked what he has seen from the team and its approach under Mularkey, who players have said throughout the offseason has provided a new attitude and structure.

"It's a new journey we have to go through," Jones-Drew, a three-time Pro Bowl selection who led the NFL in rushing a year ago, said. "As a team, we're going to work through it."

As for Mularkey, he went through his first opening-week press conference as Jaguars head coach Wednesday, answering questions for about 20 minutes about not only the intricacies of the week and the season, but big-picture questions such as whether he'll take time on Sunday to appreciate getting a second opportunity as an NFL head coach.

"It's already clicked in," Mularkey said. "I'm very proud to be the head coach of this organization."

During that press conference, Mularkey also discussed two pressing personnel issues, saying it's likely guard Uche Nwaneri (ankle) will practice Wednesday and play Sunday, though if he doesn't right tackle Cameron Bradfield could move to guard with veteran Guy Whimper playing right tackle. Mularkey also said rookie Mike Brewster could work at guard.

Mularkey also said it remains likely that Derek Cox, who sustained a hamstring injury in the first preseason game, won't play Sunday, meaning Will Middleton likely will start at corner opposite Aaron Ross Sunday.

Mostly, Mularkey said he was focused on the game, and maintaining the approach he and the team have taken the last eight months.

"I'm going to try to be (consistent)," Mularkey said. "I feel like I was that way this morning. I think I have to."

Finally, as the press conference wrapped, and as he prepared for the Jaguars final padded practice before opening day, Mularkey was asked if he was nervous. He smiled.

"No," he said, then added, "Ask me Sunday."

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