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The right direction


Mike Mularkey is still smiling, and as he sees it, he has reason to do so.

If that seems odd – if you're looking at recent headlines and just can't quite figure why Mularkey would feel good these days – then you don't understand the Jaguars' new head coach.

And as he sees it, you may not understand what's up at EverBank Field in the 2012 offseason.

"There's a lot of good going on," Mularkey said.

But isn't this the offseason of distraction? Isn't this offseason about The Trade That Didn't Happen, or the Third-Round Punter? Or the rookie wide receiver's off-field problems?

And surely, now, isn't it about the star running back?

Jaguars players will tell you while those may be storylines, they're not The Storyline, and that's certainly Mularkey's view.

A significant phase of the offseason ends Thursday. That's the day the Jaguars close their 2012 mini-camp, and after that, the veterans are gone until training camp opens in late July. But as they leave, offseason distractions aren't the topic. Instead, the topic is a feeling shared by pretty much anyone who has spent time around EverBank Field in recent weeks.

It's a feeling that change is in the air, that there's a new direction.

And specifically, that that direction is the right one.

"We're chasing destiny right now," running back Rashad Jennings said.

Talk to Jaguars players this off-season, and that's how they talk – about new beginnings, about hope, about things being done right, about a stability that should mean an opportunity to succeed.

Talk to Mularkey, and he's quick to tell you about the approach of the players during the offseason program, which began in mid-April. Mularkey has been asked throughout the offseason about what he likes about a group of players with whom he only recently began working, and for the last several weeks, he has been quick to say that without regular-season games, his only real gauge is the players' approach in practice – i.e., the enthusiasm with which they have approached learning a new system, adapting to a new philosophy.

Mularkey consistently has said the approach has been everything he could have wanted.

This is more than Coach Speak. Players talked throughout the offseason about the increased practice tempo, and beginning with a mid-April veteran orientation, there has been a noticeable difference in the offense's efficiency. Defensive players such as Clint Session and Dawan Landry each spoke of the offense's improvement early in the offseason, and during mini-camp this week players continued to talk about improvement from a group that ranked No. 32 in the NFL last season.

"At the beginning of veteran mini-camp, nobody knew how it was going to go," Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert said. "We've accomplished a ton. We're playing great football right now, and this team and the coaching staff is excited about where things are going.

"We're doing a lot of really positive things right now in all aspects – special teams, offense and defense. It's been good so far."

Not that the off-season has been all positive angles and smiles.

"We can't concentrate on the stuff off the field," veteran fullback Greg Jones said. "The stuff off the field, that's going to be that – once you come here, it's all about football."

Said Jennings, "Distractions always remind me that you're on the right track. If you don't recognize distraction, it's probably because you're doing something the wrong way anyway.

"As an athlete, you have to stay inside the building, stay inside the bubble."

And so far after eight weeks, life inside the bubble, the football stuff?

From all reports, that stuff has been as good as anyone expected eight weeks in, which is why Mularkey was a bit philosophical early this week.

During his first mini-camp press conference, the prevailing topic was understandably Jones-Drew. One question was about how Mularkey dealt with such issues.

"When you wake up in the morning, you can have a good day or a bad day," he said. "That's your choice."

That answer is in line with something Mularkey has talked about a lot since taking the Jaguars job in January. He has said several times he wants to learn from the mistakes he made during his first head coaching opportunity. When he had the position in Buffalo in 2003-2004, he said, he let things he couldn't control bother him. This year, he said, "it's not getting to me."

And his new attitude? Well, he said that's just one reason he said things aren't bothering him.

"There is so much good going on around here it has certainly overshadowed anything that hasn't been perfect," he said.

And until that's not true, whatever the minor storylines, he'll have plenty of reasons to keep smiling.

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