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View from the O-Zone: "A surreal feeling"

From left to right, Jacksonville Jaguars punter Logan Cooke (9) quarterback Blake Bortles (5), kicker Josh Lambo (4), defensive tackle Abry Jones (95), long snapper Carson Tinker (46) stand on the sidelines during the national anthem before the start of an NFL preseason football game against the New Orleans Saints, Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

JACKSONVILLE – The day is never routine, nor does Abry Jones treat it that way.

Jones, in fact, on Monday did what he often does on the final Monday before the NFL regular season.

The veteran defensive tackle found long snapper Carson Tinker, and the two players who first made the Jaguars as undrafted rookies in 2013 reminded one another that making an NFL roster – even as the Jaguars' most-tenured veterans – is to be savored.

"When I pulled in this morning, I saw Tink and I gave him a big old hug," Jones said Monday as the Jaguars began preparing to play the New York Giants in the 2018 regular-season opener at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Sunday at 1 p.m.

"We both got back in another year; hopefully we can keep it going."

Such was the mood around TIAA Bank Field Monday – two days after the Jaguars reduced the roster to the NFL regular-season limit of 53 players and six days before the regular-season opener.

Yes, eyes were on New York and the Giants – and the focus is on preparing for the game. But Monday also was a day when many around the Jaguars – coaches and veterans alike – took time to share a common feeling:

Being in the NFL isn't easy. And whether a rookie or veteran, whether All-Pro selection or undrafted free agent, it's not something to take for granted.

That's true for cornerback Tre Herndon, the only player to make the Jaguars this season as an undrafted rookie. And it's true of wide receiver Rashad Greene Sr. and defensive tackle Michael Bennett, veterans who made the roster Saturday after dealing with injuries the past several seasons.

But it's true for more established players, too.

"I was talking to my mom, and telling her, 'You know it [making an NFL roster] is a surreal feeling even to this day,''' seven-year veteran free safety Tashaun Gipson said. "You're seven years in, but it's a blessing. And you can't take it for granted.

"You still embrace it. You soak it in. It's a dream come true."

The emotion of the Monday before the NFL regular season isn't just joy. It's one of the trickier days of the NFL calendar, with players looking ahead to the season while knowing players they've worked with and befriended are no longer in meeting rooms or adjacent lockers.

The day is surreal, with what days before was a locker room stuffed with 90 players now at 63, including practice squad. It's a reminder that the NFL can be short-lived, a reminder that training camp and preseason are officially over and a reminder that what matters most is approaching fast.

"It just says playtime's over," Jones said. "Camp was tough, but camp wasn't for real. Everything is full go now. There's no more counting snaps. There's no more wondering how much we're going to play. It's all about what we have to do to get the job done."

The buildup is in the past. The regular season is at hand.

"It's time to get going," Jaguars safety Barry Church said. "You could see it when we were practicing today, especially against the scout team. The starters were more ramped up, more locked in and more dialed in to what we have to do to succeed.

"It's time to stop playing games. We have a tough task in New York this week and we have to take those boys seriously."

Make no mistake:

What Church discussed – beating the Giants –  was foremost on the minds of players Monday, as it will be the rest of the week. This is a Jaguars team that's poised and ready for the regular season, a confident team that believes the season will be special.

But there also was time Monday to appreciate the day. For Head Coach Doug Marrone, who called the days leading to Saturday's cutdown day his least favorite of the year, Monday meant a chance to appreciate what he called "underdog" stories such as Herndon, Greene and Bennett.

"That's what makes it so great," Marrone said. "Whatever the odds are you overcome them. When they come in they don't have the amount of reps. For them, when they have those reps, they really have to show something. When you do that you have stories like this."

The Jaguars roster is peppered with such stories. Not only did Gipson, Church, Jones and Tinker make the NFL as undrafted rookies, All-Pro guard Andrew Norwell and All-Pro cornerback A.J. Bouye did, too. The Jaguars' roster may be one of the NFL's best, but the locker room is proof that there many ways into the NFL.

On Monday the players gathered in that locker room and began speaking about one of the Jaguars' most anticipated regular-season openers in recent memory. They made it just as clear that they know being back in for another year isn't easy.

And it's sure not something any of them take for granted.

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