The upbeat feeling in the Jaguars locker room underscores the difference between the team's 3-3 record at the bye week this year, as opposed to last year, when the Jaguars held the same mark on their bye week.
"There's a different feel," quarterback David Garrard said on Wednesday. "Not to name names, but you definitely have a better feel. You had a little more bickering (last year)."
The reasons for the more positive feeling produced by this year's 3-3 record would seem to be threefold: 1.) Expectations for this season were low, thus, 3-3 is seen as an achievement; 2.) A younger roster of players gives the Jaguars the look of a team on the way up, instead of an old team in its final at-bat; 3.) A rebuilt wide receiving corps has helped shoot the Jaguars offense up to the 11th spot in the league, up a full nine spots from last season at this time.
In most other ways, the numbers are similar. A year ago, the Jaguars were 22nd in overall defense; now they are 25th. The 2008 Jaguars were 29th in sacks per pass play, only three spots higher than the Jaguars' ranking this year.
It's the offense that's driving the feel-good atmosphere in the '09 locker room, and the lion's share of the credit goes to a new cast of wide receivers who've put the big play back in the Jaguars' playbook.
Through six games in '08, the Jaguars completed only five passes of 25 yards or longer. Through six games this season, the Jaguars have 15 completions of 25 yards or longer to their credit.
"I definitely think we've (shown) that we can be explosive. It makes it hard for a defense to key in and take one phase away," Garrard said. "I think everybody is coming together. Gene (Smith) and Jack (Del Rio) have done a great job of bringing in weapons."
New to the receiving corps is Torry Holt, 10 years a star with the St. Louis Rams but cut by the Rams in March and signed by the Jaguars. Holt leads the Jaguars in receiving yards, 407, and has a 41-yard reception to his credit.
At this time last year, Mike Sims-Walker was battling the first of two knee injuries that would cause him to miss seven games. This year, Sims-Walker leads the Jaguars with 28 catches and three receiving touchdowns. He has a 39-yard catch to his credit and he's become Garrard's go-to guy.
Rookie Mike Thomas, however, may be the guy making it all work. It wasn't until Thomas and his run-after-the-catch skills appeared that the Jaguars' passing game caught fire. Since his entrance, the Jaguars have won three of the last four games and they have shot up the league rankings from a low of 24th following the week-two loss to Arizona, to their current spot at number 11.
"I'm here to make plays and help this team as much as I can," said Thomas, who has been used on several wide receiver screen-type plays that have stretched the field sideways and helped create running lanes for Maurice Jones-Drew, the league's sixth-leading rusher with 463 yards.
"Bringing in Torry Holt was a huge deal," said Jones-Drew, who talked of Holt challenging rookie wide receiver Jarett Dillard to a receptions contest in training camp. "One guy challenging another guy made the whole team play better," Jones-Drew added.
"It's about time," Sims-Walker said of the receiving corps' success. "We've been bashed as a receiving corps since day one."
Not any more.