JACKSONVILLE – It began for real Saturday, and it's going to stay real now.
Really, really real.
Forget the offseason, and forget last Thursday and Friday. Forget, too, all the talk – and everything else about the lead up to the Jaguars' 2017 season. All of that was in a very real sense preliminary.
All pales in comparison to what happened Saturday and what will happen in the coming days. For the Jaguars, 2017 Training Camp starts now.
The pads are on. And that means this thing just got real.
If you don't believe it, listen to what Head Coach Doug Marrone had to say after Saturday night's practice on the practice fields adjacent to EverBank Field.
"Obviously, we've been where we've been for quite a long time and the only way to get better is through hard work," Marrone said in the wake of the Jaguars' first padded practice of the '17 Training Camp. "Next week will be a hard week and will probably be one of the hardest weeks we've had in training camp."
Yes, the pads went on Saturday for the first time in '17 camp, which means the Jaguars on Saturday worked for the first time in pads since Marrone officially became head coach in January. And remember, Marrone took over as interim head coach with two games remaining last season, so the Jaguars didn't actually practice in pads either of those two weeks, either.
Saturday was the first time. And make no mistake:
This was an important moment for Marrone. Very important. He made clear in June near the end of the team's offseason program how important practicing in pads will be for the Jaguars. He made it clear again this week. He made it clear again Saturday. Hitting is important to all football coaches. In this sport, it must be that way. But for the toughness – the physical nature Marrone wants to instill in this Jaguars team – pads being on takes on particularly import.
Camp began Thursday. The Jaguars practiced that day, and they practiced again Friday.
But those practices were in shorts and helmets. They featured running, throwing, catching. There undoubtedly was value in those practices. But league rules prevented the Jaguars from wearing pads in those practices. That meant no hitting.
And that meant to Marrone there was a limit to what could really get done. It meant there was a limit to what really could be evaluated. That meant things hadn't started. Not really.
It started Saturday.
Pads popped. The Jaguars ran 9-on-7. They ran pass rush drills. They hit. It was physical.
Marrone wants this Jaguars team to be tough, well-conditioned and physical with an emphasis on … tough, well-conditioned and physical. He has talked this week of the need for the team to find get to the fourth quarter with games close, then to fight, scrap, claw and gut their way to find a way to win. Some way, somehow.
Marrone also talked this past week about earning the right to win, and you don't earn the right to win in unpadded work. You earn it with the tough, old-school stuff that started Saturday.
That stuff continues this week in a big way. Players are off Sunday, but beginning Monday the Jaguars' plan is to work five consecutive days in full pads: morning practices Monday through Thursday; a night practice Friday. There's no way under current rules to simulate the taxing, two-a-day practices of training camps of yore, but a full-padded, five-day stretch is Marrone's way of getting as close to those days as possible.
"It's going to be extremely tough, and not just on the players," Marrone said. "The coaches have to do a hell of a job, too. It's going to be tough on them and they've got to get after it and the players have to get after it. For me, I've got to do a good job and we've got to push and lead this team."
Marrone wants to create adversity. He wants players under stress and hardship. He wants to see them play football, and when he does he can begin to get some idea of these players. When he does, he can begin getting some idea about this team.
This is it. It started Saturday, and it keeps going this week.
Marrone has said often that he will have a good idea about the Jaguars' offensive line by the time the team practices against the New England Patriots in in Foxborough, Massachusetts, next Monday and Tuesday. That's because he'll see the offensive line at last doing football stuff over the next five days.
He no doubt believes he'll have a better idea about the whole team after the next five days, too.
Yes, it's going to be an old-school week at EverBank Field this week, and it's going to be a critical week for the shaping of the '17 Jaguars.
This thing just got real. And it's about to get really real.