INDIANAPOLIS – As much as possible, the past will remain the past.
New Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said that's true not only of the off-season's most-talked about Jaguars player, quarterback Blaine Gabbert, but the entire roster.
Does what happened last season matter?
Yes, in the sense that in the NFL everything matters, but Mularkey said when Jaguars coaches begin working with veteran players – a date that under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is frustratingly later than usual – as much as possible the message will be clear:
As far as the new staff is concerned, what matters is what comes next.
"It's starting from Square One with everybody," Mularkey said Thursday morning at the 2012 NFL Scouting Combine, being held this week at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis.
"This is about as clean of a surface for players and coaches as you can get. They don't know us and we don't know them. It's a clean slate and we don't really know what happened in the past."
Mularkey, who spent the last four seasons as the Falcons' offensive coordinator, said he took a similar approach when he arrived in Atlanta with Head Coach Mike Smith.
"I said, 'We're all moving forward – here's our philosophy,''' Mularkey said. "It's about as clean as anybody can have. It starts with the quarterback, but everybody has some room to improve."
Mularkey, hired as the Jaguars' head coach January 11, said he has spent much of the last six weeks not only in meetings with a new offensive staff to design the playbook, but organizing and leading the process of a largely new coaching staff learning a new roster.
Although free agency begins March 13, and although the off-season is very definitely about preparing for that date and the April 26-28 NFL Draft, Mularkey said his first assignment to each new position coach was learning his group.
"I told them basically, 'Study us,''' Mularkey said. "I said, 'Before we go looking at free agents and colleges, let's find out who we are.' We spent a half day each going through the positions, and that helped me even more. I have a good feel for the roster now."
What did he and the staff find? That the Jaguars were stronger in some spots than he anticipated, and weaker in other areas.
"We've got both ends of it," Mularkey said.
Mularkey said his own Jaguars roster education began in December, the week the Falcons and Jaguars played in Atlanta. Though he learned of the Jaguars' interest in him the week of the Falcons' playoff loss to the New York Giants, he said it wasn't until the Monday following that game that he again studied Jacksonville personnel.
"I wanted to make sure I knew them inside and out," Mularkey said, adding that while he was scheduled to meet with Miami the day after his Jaguars interview he focused most of his preparation on the Jaguars' roster.
Mularkey said much of his last six weeks has been spent doing whatever is possible to deepen that knowledge, something that has been a major focus since the process of hiring the coaching staff ended around late February.
"When the staff was hired, Gene and I sat down at length and went through and discussed the roster," he said. "That helped me immensely."
Most important, Mularkey said, is that entering the combine – and with three weeks remaining until free agency – the Jaguars have a clear plan and solid idea about roster needs. He also said the process has given the staff a better idea of areas Jaguars players currently on the roster can improve.
"I know I feel better about the situation," Mularkey said.
Mularkey said whatever acquisitions the Jaguars make, April 16 will be a key day. That's the first day of what he is calling a veteran orientation – a voluntary minicamp at which the first basics and fundamentals of his offense and coaching approach will be installed.
In previous off-seasons, the first steps of that process likely would already have taken place, but under the new CBA, coaches may not talk to players about anything related to football before April.
"That's the way it is," Mularkey said. "Everybody's dealing with it. It's frustrating with the new staff that you can't have lunch with a player right now and get to know each other in a non-football setting. People would get the wrong perception, that you're talking scheme, when you're really just trying to let him find out about you and you about him."
Mularkey said he imagines players are equally frustrated by rules dictating what they can and can't do at the team facility, and said his experience as a player indicates that some players could be hurt by the new rules. Mularkey early in his playing career spent his off-seasons in Minnesota, and said, "I guarantee me being there in the off-season and showing my commitment to that team had a huge impact."
"I know it's important," he said.
Also on Thursday:
*Mularkey said that after discussions with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and assistant head coach/quarterbacks coach Greg Olson there is a consensus on how to approach Gabbert's off-season development. "We have a plan in place," Mularkey said. "but unfortunately, it can not start until April 16."
*While the Jaguars are widely expected to pursue a wide receiver in free agency and/or the draft, Mularkey said he expects the receivers on the roster to improve under new receivers coach Jerry Sullivan. "I've seen guys on film that he worked with in the off-season who have been in the league for a while – their play last year was better than before he worked with them," Mularkey said. "I know he has the ability to get the best out of guys. We're hoping we can pull more from guys – especially at that position with Jerry being there.
*The Jaguars' coaching staff has drawn praise in some NFL circles, and Mularkey said though the Jaguars have yet to play or win a game in his tenure, he believes it's a strong staff. He also said he doesn't necessarily expect it to be together for long. He said while he believes a coach such as Olson a key hire, he believes Olson will be a coordinator sooner rather than later. "You get to know guys and you get to watch their work," Mularkey said. "I've watched some of the things he has done. Immediately, he was one of the top guys I went after. I hope he's here a long time, but I don't foresee that happening."