JACKSONVILLE – It's taking shape before our eyes. As expected. And as promised.
This indeed is what Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone promised throughout the offseason. Remember? Those times the Jaguars' head coach discounted all those non-padded practices during organized team activities and minicamp?
Those times he said he couldn't yet really evaluate his team?
Those times he said little mattered until pads?
Anyone listening to Marrone knew then that offseason unpadded stuff was preliminary, a lead-up to 2017 Training Camp – when Marrone's vision for this team would truly begin to form. And yes, we knew he envisioned tough, physical, aggressive, etc.
So, what's taking shape before our eyes isn't a surprise, exactly. But it is taking shape. Make no mistake about that. And these Jaguars do look more physical, and tougher.
That's why Marrone allowed himself …
Well, if the head coach didn't actually allow himself a smile Friday at EverBank Field following the last of five consecutive padded practices, he at least allowed himself to talk about one.
"You hardly ever see me smiling," Marrone said following Friday night's practice at the 'Bank. "You hardly ever see me happy, but I thought it was a good week. It's a start."
Marrone true to form didn't* really* smile, and he couched whatever joy he might have revealed by saying, "We still have a ways to go. We have to continue to keep working this way to become a more physical football team."
And that's true. But what's also true is we're starting to see how this team will look. And we're starting to know more about this team. Things that were discussed and assumed through the offseason are starting to feel real.
What do we know after a week and a half of camp? What have we seen?
We know – or least we have a pretty good idea – that this team is going to run. We've seen them work on it, and we've seen that not only Leonard Fournette but Chris Ivory – and perhaps T.J. Yeldon and Corey Grant – could thrive in this offense. We've seen that Fournette is going to matter, and it's hard to see him without thinking he's going to be pretty good.
We know – or least we have a pretty good idea – that this team is going to play defense, and it's hard to think that unit won't be better than what was a pretty good defense last season. It's hard to predict greatness during training camp, but A.J. Bouye is a major upgrade at one cornerback. Calais Campbell has missed much of training camp with an undisclosed injury, but no one around the Jaguars questions the immediate impact he will have on the defensive front.
We also know this team has good receivers. Allen Robinson may be having his best training camp – and that's significant, because he has had some really good camps. Marqise Lee is showing he deserves to be a starter, and Allen Hurns is the same consistent reliable player he has been the past three years.
The question most Jaguars fans have after that last paragraph is obvious:
Yeah, but can Blake Bortles get those guys the ball?
Quarterback indeed trumps all else in the NFL, and things are intriguing on that front. Yes, Bortles had the well-publicized five-interception practice early in camp. But he legitimately looked better last week – a lot better – and he had a really good night inside the 'Bank on Friday. He's doing good things in terms of accuracy and field vision. He'll be closely watched this week in Foxborough, Massachusetts, – and this feels like a big week for Bortles – but so far, so good.
This week, in fact, feels like a big week overall for the Jaguars. They will practice against the New England Patriots in Foxborough Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, then play the defending Super Bowl champions in the preseason opener at Gillette Stadium Thursday.
Yes, it's practice and a preseason game, which means it pales in importance to the regular season. But for Bortles – and for a team trying to build an identity under a new head coach – the coming days matter, just as next week's dual practices/preseason game against Tampa Bay will matter.
The Jaguars need to be able to match up in these situations. They need to not look overmatched, and they need to look like they belong. Too often in past seasons, they didn't look the part.
Here's guessing they look a lot more like the part this week. And here's definitely guessing they're going to look tough. And they're going to look physical. That's darned sure Marrone's vision, and it's darned sure a vision he wants to keep seeing this week.
Yes: the Jaguars are taking shape before our eyes, as expected. And they'll continue to take shape in a big, big way in the coming weeks. How good can they be in their final form? That's anyone's guess.
But we know for certain what they want to be.
Anyone paying attention the last week or so can see that shape very clearly.