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View from the O-Zone: Joyful, poised and ready


JACKSONVILLE – They're joyful, they're poised and they're ready.

Boy, are they ready.

The defending AFC South Champions aren't overconfident, but they absolutely are confident.

They're excited. They love playing with one another, and they can't wait to do it for real on Sunday. They know what is at stake. And they're ready. Boy, are they ready.

"I don't want any popcorn for this game," Telvin Smith said Wednesday as the Jaguars prepared to play the New York Giants in the 2018 regular-season opener at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Sunday at 1 p.m. "I want to be a part of this movie. It's going to be a good one."

Smith, the Jaguars' fifth-year defensive co-captain and Pro Bowl linebacker, had been asked if he wanted a front-row seat and a box of popcorn for what many consider Sunday's premier matchup: Jaguars All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey versus Giants All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Smith's answer felt like it spoke for every Jaguars player. Sit and watch?

Not this Sunday. And not this season. What's going on around this team is too much fun, too special. The excitement is too great.

That's how it has felt for weeks now, as if this Jaguars team couldn't wait to flex its collective muscles and show the NFL world what this locker room believes – that team is capable of special things.

That's sure how it felt Wednesday when players spoke to the media as they prepared for Sunday's game. Excitement and anticipation permeated every conversation.

A highlight during Wednesday's open locker room period: All-Pro defensive end Calais Campbell calling this a "rare team." That's a big statement from a 11-year NFL veteran who has played in a Super Bowl. Later, he expanded on the thought.

"It's just how close we are – our chemistry, how much we care about each other," Campbell said. "We have a strong brotherhood. When [wide receiver] Shane Wynn got cut [this past weekend], his quote was, 'The brotherhood we have is like high school.' It was last year, too. It's special to have that kind of affection for one another.

"It's overall, too. It's not cliquish like it usually is. When you have the whole group that's tight, that's very rare – and that carries over. When we're out there competing I don't want to let my boys down. I know the way we're doing this.

"I can't let them down. I'm more accountable to them because I care about them."

Campbell was asked what happens when you combine that approach with talent.

"You should win a lot of games," he said with a smile.

Everywhere around the Jaguars' media time Wednesday that was the feel. Quarterback Blake Bortles made his weekly podium appearance a few minutes later. He looked as he has throughout the offseason: confident, poised, comfortable in his role as captain and team leader. He said as he often has said this offseason that he feels far ahead on many fronts compared to what he has been in the past.

He also said he likes the approach thus far this season of a team that came within minutes of the Super Bowl last season.

"Everybody who was a part of what happened last year so badly wants to get back to that AFC Championship Game and change that outcome," Bortles said. "The guys have done a very good job of, 'We can't overlook anything, we can't look to that AFC Championship Game and say wait 'til we get there and we'll change what happened.' We have to take every day, every week every meeting as seriously as possible. The rest will take care of itself and we'll end up back there again."

Smith replaced Bortles at the podium. Wearing a tank top with a cartoon version of Bortles that read "Bortles Service" – "That's my quarterback," he said with a smile – Smith spoke with typical passionate eloquence not just of not wanting popcorn, but also of living up to expectations.

"It's more living up to what we want, what we expect," he said. "A lot of people are going to expect a lot of different things. Even when the show gets started, a lot of people's narratives might change, but ours is not. Ours is going to stay the same.

"We expect to go out and be great and to dominate games. If you feel some kind of way when you see something little around here you're going to get looked at like, 'Bro, come on. We do that day-in and day-out.

"It's a standard more so than, 'This is what we have to live up to.' This is what we have to do."

No, there's no lack of confidence around this team, and there's no question this team feels primed for what is to come. They're joyful, they're poised and they're ready.

Boy, are they ready.

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