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View from the O-Zone: No excuses


JACKSONVILLE – All wasn't rosy Thursday.

First, there was the unexpected Chris Clemons news. And there's still some expected uncertainty about the return of the Jaguars' best defensive player. So, Reporting Day 2015 perhaps wasn't ideal.

But those issues aren't season-ending. There's no reason to think Clemons, the team's starting Leo defensive end, won't play this season. And Sen'Derrick Marks, the team's best defensive player? While the exact date is uncertain, his return from reconstructive knee surgery is ahead of schedule.

Which brings us to Reporting Day 2015's real theme: No excuses.

Head Coach Gus Bradley said it Thursday, and it immediately sounded like a theme not only for Thursday – as all players except Clemons finished reporting for training camp – but for the preseason, and beyond.

No excuses?

Yes, that's what Bradley said when speaking to the media at EverBank Field Thursday. He said it when he was talking about how a young offense with a new offensive coordinator can still have success, but it sounded like something he can and probably will say about most of this Jaguars team.

"We can go out and get this done," Bradley said, adding, "Now is the time. I believe in that."

And you know what? That really is the theme around Jaguars 2015 Training Camp, isn't it?

Doesn't it feel that way? Doesn't it feel right?

Bradley was quick to note that this team never made excuses in the last two seasons, and it didn't. Not publicly and not even privately. The team may have been cut near the core in 2013 and it may have been a mind-bogglingly young offensively last season, but as much as was possible in those seasons, excuses were not made.

A phenomenally young offensive line. A young group of receivers. A rookie quarterback. A roster that turned over seemingly not once but multiple times over two seasons.

All were reasons for a 3-13 season last season, which came in the wake of 4-12 in Caldwell/Bradley's first season in 2013.

Players did what they could not to emphasis those reasons publicly. Coaches did what they could not to emphasize them privately. And certainly no one – not fans, not players, not anyone – wants to talk about reasons a team struggles. But the reasons? Oh, goodness, the reasons were there, and they were legitimate.

Here's why the theme is different now as opposed to past seasons:

The reasons, the excuses … whatever you want to call them?

Those aren't at the forefront anymore. Not to say the Jaguars are perfect, and not to say this is going to be a juggernaut season. The franchise likely isn't there yet. There is still growing and still maturing and still developing and still a getting-to-know-you-process to go through.

But the glaring deficiencies? The impossible-to-overcome holes in the roster?

Those appear gone as training camp begins, and it's fair to say there are enough potential strengths on the roster that the optimism being discussed by players Thursday feels … well, it just feels a whole lot realer then before.

"We should be able to see a lot of improvement on the field with our success," Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We feel comfortable, we feel confident, with what we need to do and with the people we have. We've built a foundation. We've grown off of it each year. Now, we have some pieces where we say, 'Everything should be in place.'

"We have certain aspects of our team now that are very, very solid and we have some depth in some areas we didn't have before.' All of that should make a big impact on this season."

So, can the Jaguars – as Bradley said Thursday – "go out and get this done?"

That's the question, isn't it? Yes, there are plenty of reasons for that optimism – new reasons such as Julius Thomas, T.J. Yeldon, Jared Odrick, Jermey Parnell, Dan Skuta and familiar reasons such as a very good 2014 rookie class entering Year Two. But Jaguars fans have felt optimism before, so nerves …

Yeah, there are going to be nerves.

But those nerves are OK, and there's no way to calm those fears until the regular season begins. Because only then will we know for certain the impact of the above-mentioned newcomers. Only then will we know if the offensive line is improved, if the offseason work of Blake Bortles is going to yield immediate, tangible benefits, if the defense will continue to improve.

Those are big ifs, important ifs. That's the reality of a young, building team.

But the bigger reality is for the first time in a long time, there are solid aspects to this roster. For the first time in a long time, this looks like a complete roster. For the first time in a long time, the preseason optimism has a lot of things to do with that real feel.

No excuses? Yes, that's the theme, and this year, it feels real and it feels right.

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