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View from the O-Zone: Right fit, right time


JACKSONVILLE – This editorial is a tad premature, but you know what? So what?

It's the offseason, and we're looking ahead to the beginning of the Jaguars' 2015 organized team activities next week. By definition, this is a time when we think we know a lot and don't really know as much as we think we know. Therefore, there's a lot of projecting going on.

So, here's a projection for 2015:

This Julius Thomas guy? He's a good free-agent signing.

Maybe really, really good.

Yes, some of that is based on Thomas' appearance with J.P. Shadrick and me on LIVE Wednesday, but most of it is based on what Thomas has been and what he has done since signing with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent in early March.

He consistently has been engaging. And forthcoming.

He has been impressive on camera. And off.

He has consistently shown maturity. And leadership.

He showed those things again Wednesday. And when he talked about his role with the Jaguars, and whether that role would indeed being a veteran leader on a young team, he answered as he has answered a lot of questions since signing his March megadeal.

He answered with insight, and with a self-awareness that makes you think this guy gets it on a significant level.

"It's been very comfortable for me," Thomas said. "Talking to (Jaguars Head) Coach Gus (Bradley) early on, he told me, 'The only thing I ask from you is to genuinely help others.' Don't have any agenda, just throw your arm around a guy and say, 'Let's work on this' or 'How can I help you with this.'

"That's part of my personality, so it fits. … The young guys, if they need anything, want to talk about anything or if they just want to look left or look right and see what it takes, I just want to be that leadership example for them."

Thomas on Wednesday gave the same impression he has given for the last two months – that he is ready to be more than a productive receiving tight end and more than an offensive threat, though it's certainly not a reach to say this team needs both. When you sign a five-year contract for $46 million, you're going to be under a microscope. Thomas seems ready for that. Not that he's going to get Tom Brady/Aaron Rodgers/Peyton Manning focus. Non-quarterbacks don't get that, particularly not small-market non-quarterbacks, but within the context of this market, Thomas absolutely will be a focus.

That's to be expected. The Jaguars haven't had a star in a long time. They haven't had a high-profile offensive player since 2011, when Maurice Jones-Drew won the NFL rushing title. They haven't had a true high-profile free agent in longer than that.

Thomas was one of the NFL's top free agents this offseason. He played with Manning and the Denver Broncos. He played in Pro Bowls. If those things don't make him a household face and name nationally, his name is certainly known in NFL circles.

He's quickly becoming a face of the Jaguars, too.

A few touchdowns in the fall, and that will become even more so. On that front, this feels like a case of "right place, right time." I asked Thomas if he felt that way, too.

Absolutely, he said.

"It does feel like something I'm ready for," he said. "A couple of years ago, I was still so new to the game and learning – trying to digest my full plate of things – but now I've seen a couple of defenses and I've run a couple of routes, so I'm excited to be in a position to be somebody guys can look for and say, 'OK, that's how we go about what we have to do.'  

"I'm excited to have the challenge of growing into being a leader and a guy people can trust. I think that's what makes you a leader in this league."

This story won't focus on what to expect statistically from Thomas. It's the belief here that Thomas will have a tough time matching his numbers from the past two seasons in Denver because the belief here is that catching 12 touchdowns from second-year Blake Bortles will be significantly tougher than catching that number from Peyton Manning. No knock on Bortles, just reality.

But it's the belief here, too, that Thomas next season doesn't have to match statistically what he did in Denver. If he helps the passing game improve, if he makes defenses defend him, if does even half of what he did statistically in Denver, the Jaguars are better for it.

And along the way, if he helps a young team grow, the Jaguars are better for it, too. All signs are that Thomas is more than capable on the field, and he's shown in the last couple of months that he's capable off the field, too. So, this Thomas guy? Is he a good signing? Yeah, so far it feels that way.

And if that's a tad premature, so what?

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