JACKSONVILLE – The Jaguars' best-kept secret isn't really a secret at all.
It's not as if teammates aren't talking about Julius Thomas, and it's not as if anyone around the Jaguars has forgotten the veteran tight end's importance. So, why does it seem as if Thomas has been sorta, kinda forgotten?
Whatever the reason, know this:
Thomas has the look and feel of a player who can be a big factor in the offense this season. As for Thomas? He's confident, too.
It's just his nature to be sort of low-key about it. Particularly in May.
"Whether or not I have a lot of buzz going into this year, I know what I've put in and I know what I can bring to the field," Thomas said Tuesday following a late morning practice during Jaguars 2016 Organized Team Activities.
Jaguars wide receiver Allen Robinson had this to say when asked about Thomas Tuesday.
"He can be extremely important," Robinson said. "I thought for the games he was out there last year he was also important. He made some big plays and big catches down the stretch."
Here's where Thomas' Jaguars story is in Week 2 of 2016 OTAS:
This is an important time for the sixth-year veteran. Not a critical, career-changing time. The league and his teammates know Thomas can play. He made two Pro Bowls in his last two seasons in Denver, after all, catching 12 touchdown passes in both 2013 and 2014.
But in terms of his Jaguars career, it's important. And that makes it an important time for the Jaguars' offense overall, too.
Thomas, after signing as an unrestricted free agent, this time last offseason had the look of the Jaguars' best offensive player. If you were picking a skill guy during last offseason's OTAs to be a go-to guy in the regular season, Thomas would have been the easy choice.
He looked different than any other Jaguars offensive player because he looked better than any other Jaguars offensive player. He appeared to be developing a rapport with quarterback Blake Bortles, and the overall good vibe around Thomas continued into training camp.
Then, Thomas sustained a hand injury early in the preseason opener, and after missing the last three preseason games didn't play a regular-season game until Week 5.
He contributed last season in a significant way, and made his presence made the offense better. He caught 46 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns, and he was a defense-influencing force during the early part of the second half of the season when he had four consecutive games with a touchdown reception.
But if the results were OK, they also weren't what Thomas wanted.
Images from the fourth day of organized team activities.
He never quite got in full synch with Bortles and never quite appeared fully involved in the offense, and that's what makes this offseason key.
"This is probably the biggest time of the year for growing and learning," Thomas said. "We have so much extra time. We're able to look at the film, look at some of the things we did last year and figure out why we weren't executing at a high level. Me and Blake and the rest of the offense as a whole, we're trying to look at stuff we didn't do well and why, to make sure when we come out next year we're a better offense because that's the goal."
Thomas said Tuesday it was hard to quantify just how much his extended training-camp/early-season absence hurt. Suffice to say it was more than "a little," and Thomas said the timing between him and Bortles "has definitely improved" this offseason.
"I think that me and Blake have a much better relationship, a much better understanding of each other and most importantly getting more reps," he said. "I think that most good quarterback-receiving position duos have played together for a while so it's kind of important."
You get the idea listening to Thomas this time is more than "kind of important" and that it's probably closer to a "really" important. You get the idea, too, that while he considered his first Jaguars season "pretty good" considering the circumstances he agrees with his teammates who believe he can be a very important, very productive player in this improving young offense.
"I've set a pretty high standard for myself so I rarely live up to it," Thomas said. "I'm going to continue to push myself. I continue to want to do more and more for the team. It's not always stats for me. It's how I'm affecting the game to help my team. I want to have a pretty big role in that and I want to do all I can to help this be a successful offense."
The Jaguars need him to do just that – and if he does, it's easy to see a scenario in which this offense is a lot better this season, particularly in the red zone.
And if he does, the Jaguars' not-so-well-kept secret won't be close to forgotten anymore.