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View from the O-Zone: Starting to smile


ORLANDO, FL – The sun shone, and A.J. Bouye smiled.

Malik Jackson and Jalen Ramsey smiled on Wednesday, too – and like Bouye – their quotes on a sunny Central Florida morning were sprinkled with optimism and the good feeling of a job well done.

Those weren't the only emotions for Jaguars players who spent Wednesday at the Wide World of Sports Complex preparing for Sunday's Pro Bowl, but it's notable that the emotions were here.

The sun has come up, after all – three times now.

And it's OK for the Jaguars to start trying to smile again.

"We're out here enjoying it – just the moment," Bouye said Wednesday after the AFC practice for the 2018 Pro Bowl, which will be held at Camping World Stadium in Orlando Sunday at 2:50 p.m.

And you know what? That's what they should do. And good for them.

Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue …

Cornerback Jalen Ramsey …

Defensive tackle Malik Jackson …

Linebacker Telvin Smith …

Bouye …

Images of Jaguars players from the 2018 Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

Those are the five Jaguars players selected to the 2018 Pro Bowl, with veteran defensive end Calais Campbell opting out of the game early this week. That's the franchise's most Pro Bowl selections since 1999, fitting for a season that was franchise's best in nearly two decades.

All five are hurting, and don't think the final minutes of Sunday's 24-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game aren't on their collective minds, just as they're on the collective minds of every Jaguars coach and player.

Super Bowl opportunities are rare, and Sunday's pain lingers.

That loss was among the topics for Jaguars players Wednesday, as was what the Jaguars' AFC South Championship season – and coming without minutes of the franchise's first Super Bowl – means for the future.

"We know how to get there now," Ramsey said. "We know how to get there as a team, but every year is different. We can't really make too much about it and start all the way over … Step One."

How much did Sunday sting? How hard was the loss?

Enough that as of Monday morning, Jackson was the only one of the four Jaguars players originally selected planning to attend the Pro Bowl. Campbell opted out because of knee issues that hampered him at season's end, and Ramsey and Bouye considered not going.

Then, Smith and Ngakoue were notified by the league they had been named to the game. When Bouye and Ramsey reconsidered – with Campbell telling Bouye he should enjoy the moment and experience – it made for a very deserving Jaguars five-some in Orlando this week.

"It's real cool to see five guys," Jackson said. "I wish two-seven [running back Leonard Fournette] would have made it, and I wish Calais could have made it here. To be able to be here with these guys and see familiar faces … it's a lot of our first times, so to be here and enjoy it with each other and truly be able to take it in is awesome. It's just a blessing."

That, of course, is exactly what this five-some should be doing this week – and good for them that they decided to attend. Logic tells you this probably won't be the only Pro Bowl for Ramsey or Ngakoue, a couple of second-year players – and there's no reason to think Bouye, Jackson and Smith can't have a run of Pro Bowl seasons.

But there also are no guarantees in the NFL, and logic also tells this could be the only chance for at least one of the players.

And the Pro Bowl is without question a memorable experience for those honored. The game itself isn't a great watch, but the week leading to leading to it is special for the players – particularly the chance to celebrate and mingle upon many of the NFL's best players, and to enjoying the benefits of reaching what for many is a lifelong dream.

"I just found out they're getting us VIP stuff for Disney, so my daughter's going to be on ten," Bouye said with a smile.

Something else cool, Bouye said, has been players approaching and telling him what the Jaguars accomplished this season was amazing. Those moments don't make the memory or hurt of Sunday go away, but they're significant – and they're part of what is making this week more enjoyable than Bouye originally expected.

Bouye, who played collegiately in Orlando at the University of Central Florida, was among the most interviewed players after Wednesday's practice. Long after the hour session was over, and after he had completed most of his interviews, he was asked if he indeed was glad he had decided to attend.

"A message that I've heard from a lot of veterans is that no matter what happens in our career, we have to take the good with the good and the bad with the bad," Bouye said. "There's always a little bit of light somewhere gleaming. We're here at the Pro Bowl. We're here with the best players.

"I'm glad I came down. I'm glad I'm here."

With that, Bouye walked to the stands to sign autographs. He and his Pro Bowl teammates were starting to smile again – as they should.

Good for them.

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