JACKSONVILLE – Consider Head Coach Doug Marrone's message well-received.
If there is a thought that keeps returning when listening to Jaguars players this offseason, it's that this is a team very much looking ahead to 2018 and not looking back to 2017.
That was hardly a given considering January's heartbreaking loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, but Marrone began sending the message a day later that '17 was over and nothing would be gained from looking back.
Players throughout OTAs have talked like a group that has received the message. Linebacker Telvin Smith was the latest to discuss it when he met with the media Thursday.
"We have to keep being more successful, getting more success," Smith said, recalling a conversation he had on the field with Marrone that day. "You can't get tired in this process, and I think that is where we are right now."
While Marrone certainly deserves credit for the Jaguars' mindset, even without his influence it seems unlikely this group will want for motivation. Look no further than cornerback A.J. Bouye's meeting with the media Tuesday for evidence that the chip that became a theme of last season's AFC South Championship season remains firmly affixed to this team's collective shoulder.
"I still don't get a lot of respect," Bouye said.
It's fair to wonder what needs to happen for Bouye to feel respected after being named to the Pro Bowl and being named a second-team Associated Press All-Pro selection a year ago. It's also fair to smile a little when players such as end Yannick Ngakoue talk about lack of respect after being named to the NFL Network's Top 100 players a few months after also playing in the Pro Bowl.
But know you know what? If feeling disrespected motivates those players, good for them. It's motivated them – and the Jaguars – to a pretty high level.
"If that is the way he feels to get him to work hard or whatever the motivation is – I'm fine with that," Marrone said of players feeling disrespected.
Jaguars defensive coordinator Todd Wash smiled this week when discussing Ngakoue, admiringly calling him the "Energizer bunny" for his tireless work ethic.
"It is obviously a situation I try to poke and do that kind of stuff to make sure he stays motivated," he said. "We try to make sure I challenge him in the meetings. I try to do the best I can to stump him in front of the group, which I have not yet.
"He is a prideful, prideful player. We are very fortunate to have him."
The same appears true for a number of players on this team.
How high a level can this group reach? That's anyone's guess. But what is clear a few weeks into OTAs is focus and motivation probably won't be a concern.
Smith's Thursday podium appearance was a highlight of the week, with the always-entertaining five-year veteran weak-side linebacker touching on topics from teammates to the 2018 season. Unsurprisingly, Smith was perhaps most entertaining when discussing longtime middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who retired in March. Smith joked that while he is comfortable assuming more of a leadership role in Posluszny's absence, he has no plans to begin keeping the schedule of his friend and former teammate who Smith said often was at the facility by 5:15. "I'm not a morning guy," Smith said, adding that teammates have joked that Posluszny will be ready if called upon to come out of retirement. "I promise you we said, 'What do you think Poz is doing?''' Smith said, laughing. "He is probably still going over installs, getting ready. Even though we are sitting up here joking about it, he is really still in that mindset and ready to come back. That is one thing everybody loves about him. That is why we still talk about him. It's love. It's love."
Rookie safety Ronnie Harrison drew praise on multiple fronts this week, with Wash on Thursday saying the third-round selection from Alabama appears early in OTAs to be a little better than the Jaguars originally anticipated. "I like what I see so far," Marrone said of Harrison. "We're not in pads; I think that is a big part of his game from what you saw in college – being able to tackle well and tackle well in space." Marrone said it appears Harrison is benefitting from playing at Alabama, where Head Coach Nick Saban's close work with the secondary historically produces NFL-ready defensive backs. "There is not really anything you can throw at them coverage-wise and scheme-wise and even technique-wise that maybe they have not seen before," Marrone said, adding of Harrison: "He is matter of fact and does a good job and studies and is smart. He's really picking things up, so that's exciting. We have more work to do, but we are looking for that transfer for when the pads come on and we get on the field."
"Everybody still talks about him (Posluszny). 'What would he do in this situation? Or Poz would say this or Poz would do that.' We still talk about him just like he is here. It is just once we get in the situations or once we are in meeting room, you are not seeing him. That is the only thing that is getting at us."
--Smith on Posluszny