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View from the O-Zone: "It's a blessing"


JACKSONVILLE – He doesn't feel old. Not even close.

This doesn't surprise Marcedes Lewis, necessarily, and he's not bragging when he talks about feeling younger than a longtime NFL veteran ought to feel. It's just how it is, and he's glad it's that way.

"What year does this feel like for you?" the Jaguars' veteran tight end was asked this week.

The reply was telling.

"Five," Lewis answered.

That's six years less than reality – and for Lewis, it's just one reason this is a remarkably rosy training camp. He may be entering his 11th NFL season, but to him this feels like "a fresh start" – with the veteran having one of his best July/Augusts in memory and appearing likely to have an extensive role on the offense.

"This is like my second coming," he said. "It's a blessing."

Yes, Lewis' role again will be critical to the offense in running situations. That's as it has been for the last several seasons. But it also appears he will have an increased role in passing situations.

Whatever the role, Lewis is happy. And excited. And thankful.

It's a combination of those things that makes Lewis a remarkable story this month, and it's indeed a remarkable story that Lewis is in Jaguars 2016 Training Camp at all.

Speculation abounded late last season and early in the offseason that Lewis would sign elsewhere. And indeed he nearly signed with the Los Angeles Rams in free agency last March. It was tempting situation, a chance to finish his career in what essentially is his hometown.

Only a funny thing happened on the way to Lewis leaving the franchise. Hours after free agency opened, he signed a three-year contract he hopes will allow him to finish his career in Jacksonville.

So, here he is entering Year 11. All with the Jaguars. If that sounds like a lot of years, it is.

And Lewis absolutely has perspective on that.

"Trust me, when you come into this league – you're happy if you get three [seasons],'' Lewis said. "Then once you get five you're like, 'OK, I'm vested.' Then after that, you're thinking, '10? OK, let me see how my body feels after this …' "

Lewis' response to that final thought doesn't surprise him, exactly. He has worked tirelessly to remain physically able to play in the NFL. But the extent to which he feels good … yeah, that's a somewhat surprising.

"I'm stronger, I'm faster, I'm quicker, more alert … it's totally different," Lewis said.

Lewis said the Jaguars this season may give him some planned days off, a common approach with veterans but something he never has done. He likes that idea, but what he likes more is how the Jaguars plan to use him.

"They're starting to get me involved in the passing game," he said. "I'm like a kid with childlike faith. It just feels good."

Take a look at some of the best images from Tuesday's practice.

As for as his career, Lewis said he feels no end in sight. Asked how long he expects to play, he refers to former Falcons/Chiefs All-Pro tight end Tony Gonzalez, who played 17 NFL seasons. Lewis worked out with Gonzalez two years before the latter's retirement and said he shares Gonzalez's mentality from that time.

"You're going to go until the engine don't go no more, but you want to be able to walk away on your own terms," Lewis said.

Lewis appears to have a chance to do just that – and to reemerge as a productive player in the Jaguars' offense. While no longer the No. 1 receiving tight end, he is a starter opposite receiving tight end Julius Thomas and remains key to the running game. He likes the system, likes his working relationship with Thomas – "when you put us on the same side it's going to be trouble," he said – and likes, too, his chemistry with quarterback Blake Bortles. His two touchdown receptions in last Friday's scrimmage were indicative of his consistent production thus far during camp.

If Lewis isn't likely to be the Jaguars' main tight end target, it won't be a surprise if he's a regular red-zone option. He also remains a player who can hurt a defense if game plans don't account for him.

"He's such a big target for Blake [Bortles] and especially in the red zone area -- does a great job with his tall skills and big perimeter and it's great for Blake," Jaguars Head Coach Gus Bradley said. "I know he appreciates that part from Marcedes."

What Lewis appreciates right now is … well, pretty much everything.

Lewis has been vocal for three seasons about liking the direction of the franchise under Bradley/Caldwell, and he values a chance to be a part of it going forward. And that's only part of what he's appreciating as the preseason opener approaches.

"I feel good," Lewis said. "When I get out of bed, I still want it. I'm still excited to be here. I'm out there and I'm ready to go."

And as long as that's true, Lewis figures there's every reason to keep playing – and every reason to keep being excited and thankful about the chance to do so.

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