JACKSONVILLE – They weren't exhaling, but they did smile.
It wasn't an ear-to-ear, wide-eyed beam, necessarily, but a few Jaguars veterans were grinning. It was a confident grin.
We're talking about a feeling around EverBank Field Monday, a feeling maybe you missed if you didn't talk to Jaguars veterans on what is annually one of the most unique days of the NFL calendar.
That feeling is this: That the month of August – a tough training camp/preseason by NFL standards, and the toughest NFL camp endured by many Jaguars veterans – will have the desired effect.
That August made this team tougher …
That it made this team better …
That it made this team regular-season ready …
That was the idea behind a training camp as taxing mentally as it was physically. The idea was to put players through something difficult; if they could make it through August, the theory went, there would be rewards after that.
That was the hope anyway – and it was cause for a good feeling Monday.
"You saw how difficult training camp was – difficult in a very positive way," middle linebacker and defensive captain Paul Posluszny said Monday as the Jaguars prepared to play the Houston Texans in the 2017 regular-season opener at NRG Stadium in Houston Sunday.
"If we're able to excel through that, and experience that, and build off that, (then) that should have a tremendous impact over the course of the year."
Here's what made '17 training camp difficult: Not so much the physical nature of practice, though there were tough practices. But there's only so much on-field work a team can do in the era of one-a-day practices, and only so much hitting a team can do and have a healthy team Week 1.
No, when players talk about August being tough they talk as much about the off-field aspects:
Earlier wakeups than past years …
Later nights before returning to the team hotel …
In between wake-up and bed check, down time was scarce – if it existed at all. The idea: to strain players, to create as much adversity as possible. If toughness couldn't be hit into players during practice, it darned sure could be gleaned from long hours and full days.
So, mission accomplished?
Yes, players said Monday: Mission accomplished.
"I think that was the goal of the coaching staff, was to put us through something challenging," veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said. "I believe we grew together and we gelled. You have to come together when it's hard like that. I think we're better prepared.
"I expect when we go out there we're going to be in really good shape. We're going to be focused on our assignments and we're going to be very disciplined."
It was that idea that had veterans such as Posluszny and Campbell smiling Monday on an otherwise tricky day emotionally. Know this:
The Monday before the NFL regular season isn't a giddy day, and Monday wasn't giddy at the 'Bank. The Jaguars spent the weekend trimming the roster to 53 players. Because of that, the Monday locker room was eerie, with empty lockers representing the cold reality that NFL careers end at a moment's notice. It gives the aware veteran cause to appreciate the day, the moment.
There also is another feeling just as prominent on the Monday before the regular season: that the preliminaries are over and that the time is at hand.
"You look around and you say, 'OK, this is our group for the season; this is who we're going to have,''' Posluszny said. "You automatically become closer to those guys and you form a bond with those guys. You know, 'When we play on Sunday, these are the guys you're going to have around.'''
Not that Monday was the end of anything. Not for the players, nor for Marrone. While the past month may have been taxing, and while it may have steeled the roster for tests yet to come, Marrone was clear Monday that the tests aren't over.
"It's a constant evaluation," Marrone said. "I don't think it's a time to say, 'Whew, we're down to 53.' … I told the players after practice today: 'Every rep is so extremely important. We can't afford to waste a rep by not lining up properly or not executive practice, or stopping practice. That's the challenge. …"
So now, the challenge continues. As Marrone said Monday, "It's like, here you are, 53, you exhale. Bad move. Don't exhale. Keep that edge about yourself." The thought here is the players will do little exhaling.
Still, considering what those players in the locker room Monday endured to be there, it was understandable if they smiled. At least a little. After a tough August, they are through to the other side – and better for it as individuals and as a team.
That was the hope anyway.
And it was cause for a good feeling Monday on an otherwise tough day at the 'Bank.