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The new and the now


They arrived early, and kept arriving through the early afternoon.

They signed autographs outside the EverBank Field gate. They posed for pictures and when they walked into the familiar stadium, they saw a new coaching staff, new words on the meeting room doors and a new locker room that a few months ago was only plans, prototypes and potential.

On and on it went Thursday as Jaguars players reported for 2012 Training Camp, and whatever the perception, it wasn't a day about who wasn't around. Inside EverBank, the day wasn't about how long the veteran running back might hold out, or the rookie receiver ironing out contract details.

This day for the Jaguars was about excitement, and energy. It was about the now. And it was about the new.

And make no mistake:

When Jaguars players reported on Thursday, what they saw was as impressive and real as it was new: a $3 million locker-room renovation that players couldn't stop tweeting and texting and talking about.  And the excitement and energy?

Well, that was real, too.

"This is the start to a new era," Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "It's a new football team. The locker room was kind of a cherry on top. We're excited about that, but we're excited to get on the field. We're at the point where talk is cheap. We want to get on the field and let our actions speak for themselves."

That quote? That feeling? That's more than just the players and team putting a positive spin on a tricky offield situation.

That's what it felt like all offseason, and it's what it felt like as players reported Thursday for a season with a new head coach, a largely new offensive staff, a new offense and a new owner.

Yes, there was talk about Maurice Jones-Drew, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who has made it clear he's unhappy with his contract. New Jaguars Owner Shad Khan made it equally clear this week that the team has no plans to offer a new deal, not with two years remaining on the current one.

That's the same thing Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith said last month, so any thought that the team didn't mean what Smith said should be over now. There is no negotiation, and from the Jaguars' point of view, there is no controversy.

The decision, the team has made clear, is up to Jones-Drew now.

When he comes to camp, he comes to camp.

Until then, the team moves forward and the focus is on preparing for the season.

"It's part of the deal," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We're going to be a much better team when he gets here, but he's a professional. He'll have to handle the situation. He's a true pro. He'll come in shape. He'll be ready to play ball."

Posluszny admitted that the longer Jones-Drew holds out the more difficult it will be to learn a new offense, but he said Jones-Drew is a special player, and special players do special things whatever the circumstance.

"He's an intelligent player with great physical gifts," Posluszny said. "When he gets here, he's going to want to be successful. He's going to want to help the team win. He'll do what it takes to do that. When Maurice gets here, he'll be able to learn what he needs to fast. It's not going to be easy, but we trust him he'll do the right thing and when he gets here, he'll be ready to play.

"In this business we're in, you have to handle things when you have the opportunity,"

There was less talk Thursday about Blackmon, perhaps because of a feeling that the No. 5 overall selection in the 2012 NFL Draft will get signed much sooner than later. At issue is guaranteed money in his contract. The team wants assurances in his deal that protect the franchise if Blackmon has future off-field issues. Those are the sorts of things that delay contracts, but it seems unreasonable to think the delay would be lengthy.

But while Blackmon and Jones-Drew will be issues until they arrive, those issues Thursday just didn't seem to be the main theme.

Not with players talking about the energy established all offseason by Mularkey and the offensive staff. Not with defensive tackle Terrance Knighton reporting in the best shape of his NFL career.  Not with talk about Gabbert and an improved receiving corps, and about the work that needs to be done by both in the coming weeks.

And not with a morning filled with players tweeting photos of a state-of-the-art locker room with European toilets, spas and waterfalls. A fancy locker room may not automatically produce victories, but it darned sure set a tone for the first season of a new era.

"It's a great statement from Mr. Khan that we want to do things the elite way, and that has to translate to what we do on the field," said Posluszny, who called the facility "unbelievable" and "the best I've ever been around."

Gabbert put it a bit more succinctly. "It's styling," he said.

Said Posluszny, "It has to be tops in the NFL. For the culture of the organization, it's saying, 'We want to be the best.' It's Mr. Khan saying, 'We're going to provide you with the best. Now, go out and do what you can to be the best organization on the field.' Now, we have to do our job on the field.

"From a culture standpoint, we're saying we want to be the best in the NFL."

That word, in a very reason sense, summed up the day. There is a culture change around EverBank, one that was evident all offseason and one that became more so as Thursday arrived and as the 2012 season drew a day nearer.

And whatever the off-field story, the day overwhelmingly was about the coming season, and the seasons after that. It was a day about the new, and the now, and anything else just didn't seem to fit.

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