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View from the O-Zone: "It's going to be hard …"


JACKSONVILLE – The big man spoke again – and again, his message was clear.

And for the second consecutive season, doesn't it feel like Calais Campbell hit the right note to set the tone for the Jaguars' season?

"I tell the guys all the time: 'It's going to be hard. We have our work cut out for us,''' Campbell said Friday on Day 2 of Jaguars 2018 Training Camp.

That quote alone isn't earth-shaking, of course. It's obviously hard to do what the Jaguars want to do this season. The Super Bowl is no easy task.

But whereas Campbell this time last year told anyone who would listen how good this team could be – and whereas last season it felt as if a lot of his teammates needed at least a littleconvincing – Campbell is far from alone this season in his belief that this team can be good, perhaps great.

And make no mistake: Campbell very much believes the Jaguars can be great. 

But his message Friday afternoon following a sweltering, non-padded two and a half hours at the Dream Finders Homes Practice Complex was as much a cautionary tale as a declarative statement on this team's potential.

"We have a chance to be really, really good," Campbell said. "We know that. Everybody in the locker room knows that. I'm glad we have high confidence. At the same time, we have a lot of work to do. As talented as we are, and as hard as we work, we should be very good.

"I'm pretty confident when I say we're the hardest-working team in the league."

What a difference a year makes.

When Campbell said such things a year ago, the response often was a collective eye roll. Yes, Campbell upon signing with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent from Arizona saw the potential in this team. But few others did – and few believed the Jaguars would win their first division title in 18 years and come within minutes of the Super Bowl.

Campbell's 16.5 sacks and relentless play-making pressure was key to that, but so was his locker room leadership. Few players in Jaguars history have had the culture-changing impact that Campbell had in his first season, emerging as he did as the team's voice and consciousness almost immediately – and flourishing in that role throughout the season.

Campbell's respect was hard-earned in eight seasons as one of the NFL's most-respected players, and Campbell learned something else during those years that he believes will help the Jaguars this season.

All that talk coming from Head Coach Doug Marrone about this being a new season – about earning the right to win this season the same way they did last season? Campbell will tell you that's more than Coach Speak.

No, Campbell will tell you that stuff is very real.

"This year teams are going to look to us to try to measure ourselves against us," Campbell said. "In my 10 years, you see teams that everybody's talking about being pretty good … when you play against them you want to bring your A-game and see if you can match up and be a contender. When you have a little success, that's what comes with it: You're that game when everyone's going to bring their A-Game against us."

Yes, this is a new season for the Jaguars. And they're indeed playing a new role. Whereas the Jaguars measured themselves against other teams last season, teams this season will measure themselves against them. 

But while that's a role unfamiliar to this franchise for much of the last two decades, Campbell said it's a role this team covets.

"We like to talk a lot of trash, back it up and make teams fear us," he said with a smile. "Our ultimate goal is to strike intimidation. People know we know how good we are. That's a good feeling to have, to know teams are thinking, 'OK, these guys talk a lot, but they back it up.'"

Campbell on that front couldn't be more right. That has become the Jaguars' identity, and their willingness to embrace that role is one reason it's hard to imagine a lack of focus or a letdown being an issue for this team. 

Could injuries cause this team to slip this season? A few fluky close losses? Sure. But the idea of these players somehow losing their way – or thinking that having been good last season will enable them to be good this season – is hard to fathom if you spend any time around these players and coaches.

Still, Campbell's message Friday was dead on. Yes, the Jaguars are talented. And yes, they can get back to where they were last season and perhaps a bit further. There's little question about that.

But there's also little question it will be a far tougher task than it was a year ago.

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