JACKSONVILLE – It's time to open this thing up. At last.
And now it's for real.
There's a ton of buzz around the Jaguars in Year Two under Head Coach Gus Bradley. The roster is better. The team feels good about its identity. Enthusiasm is high, and with reason.
Those things are there when you talk to Jaguars players and coaches as the 2014 regular-season opener approaches, but that's all big-picture stuff. The main focus is on the immediate task at hand, and the immediate task at hand is there's a real game Sunday – one that counts.
"We talk to our guys about how every game is a championship opportunity," Head Coach Gus Bradley said as the Jaguars prepared to play the defending NFC East Champion Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Sunday at 1 p.m.
"We have to instill that into our guys. This is a championship opportunity, this Sunday. And then the next week, it'll be a championship opportunity. We want to drive that home with our guys."
While enthusiasm is high, the Jaguars enter 2014 with question marks, particularly offensively.
There are new faces in new places all over the offensive line, and a lot of those faces are young, with rookie Brandon Linder starting at right guard and third-year veteran Jacques McClendon making his first career start at center.
Ditto wide receiver, where fourth-year veteran Cecil Shorts III is the old man of the group. He is questionable for Sunday with a hamstring injury, meaning three rookies – Marqise Lee, Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson – should play significant roles.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis and quarterback Chad Henne are veterans, but running back Toby Gerhart will make his seventh career start after signing with the team as an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, so however you view it, this is a young offense.
The Jaguars' strength, at least on paper, is defense.
The team addressed defensive line in a big way in the offseason, adding end Red Bryant, Leo pass rusher Chris Clemons and tackle Ziggy Hood. Tyson Alualu is playing well behind Bryant, and Ryan Davis is playing well behind Clemons. Roy Miller and Sen'Derrick Marks could be the strength of the defense at the tackle position. That's not the only place the Jaguars are better defensively. The secondary is young and talented, featuring second-year safety Johnathan Cyprien, and if Cyprien and the line develop as expected, it should mean an improved defense.
The consensus is that at least early the Jaguars will need to play good defense, stay in games and let a young offense mature as the season goes on. But you don't play the games on paper, and consensus doesn't matter. This is a young team with improving talent, and it will grow before our eyes. That growth starts Sunday.
"Every opportunity is important and gives us an opportunity to demonstrate who we are," Bradley said.
Here's a look at this week's coverage of Jaguars-Eagles on jaguars.com: