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What it's all about


Veteran, rookie or coach, it matters not at all.

The regular season is at hand, and to hear Jaguars middle linebacker Paul Posluszny tell it, who you are and how long you've been around the NFL really isn't an issue.

The games count, the standings start changing for real. It's . . .

Well, it's what it's all about.

"We can't wait for it," Posluszny said this week as the Jaguars prepared for the 2012 regular-season opener, in which they will play the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field in Minneapolis, Minn., Sunday at 1 p.m.

"You can ask guys who have played nine or 10 years. I was talking to (Jaguars 13-year veteran center) Brad Meester, and he was saying he still gets excited for a preseason game.

"You can only imagine what that's like for the start of the real deal."

Yes, we can – and imagine this:

This game Sunday? It's not just the start of any regular season. It's Mike Mularkey's first game as Head Coach, and Shad Khan's first game as Jaguars Owner.

Since Khan took over as Jaguars owner in early January, he has talked often of the rebirth of the franchise, and this is indeed a team with a new coach, new offense, new wide receiver corps, a largely new offensive coaching staff.

Take all of that into consideration, and you have a new attitude, new energy and a largely new outlook.

"I'm definitely excited," wide receiver Mike Thomas said. "It's been a long time coming. I'm ready to get to it."

There is around this team hope – a belief – and if few outside EverBank share that . . . well, the Jaguars are long since accustomed to that.

"We don't mind riding under the radar," Jaguars offensive guard Uche Nwaneri said. "It's no big deal. We're just going to keep doing what we do. We're going to keep being the kind of team Coach Mularkey wants us to be."

That means being physical. It means being aggressive. It means being smart.

It also means being organized, and disciplined, and to hear players tell it, Mularkey – hired by Khan on January 11 – nearly eight months later has instilled those attributes.

The Jaguars finished last season 5-11, and have not made the postseason since 2007. Partly as a result of that, and partly because of a roster that largely is unknown, most national analysts expect little of the Jaguars this season.

As for the Jaguars players? Their belief is that the pundits couldn't be more wrong.

"We believe so," Posluszny said. "We know that from an outside perspective we're not going to get a lot of respect. People aren't expecting us to do well, and that's fine. I've said this before, 'When you go 5-11 and when people think you have a difficult offseason with the things going on,' from that perspective we haven't given outside people reason to feel anything else.

"But that's not the way we look at it. We look at it like we have a great group of guys who are willing to do things the right way, and what we've had a great offseason. We've done all the things the right way.

"We have our complete team now and we're ready to play."

The Jaguars have their complete team because running back Maurice Jones-Drew reported to camp last Sunday following a 38-day holdout. He is expected to play in a reserve role behind Rashad Jennings Sunday.

Jones-Drew's return is just one storyline for a team looking to make a dramatic improvement offensively. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert, after struggling at times as a rookie, showed significant progress during the preseason, throwing three touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Jaguars' wide receivers also showed improvement, with rookie Justin Blackmon catching 10 passes for 136 yards and a touchdown in three games and showing signs of emerging as the team's No. 1 receiver, and veteran Mike Thomas leading the team with 13 receptions for 161 yards.

"With new coaches, new management, new everything – everything is tuned up from the beginning," Thomas said. "To have some sense of who we are, what kind of team we're going to have, to have lived it and to have seen some success – it's exciting and encouraging coming around this time compared to previous years.

"We've put in a lot of work and I think guys feel comfortable with the work we've put in. It gives us a chance to win, because we have put in that work."

That work was put in during a training camp that players and coaches alike said was notably difficult and physical in the post-two-a-day-era of the NFL. Mularkey's idea was to entrench his philosophy and approach, and instill in the Jaguars his style.

"This one felt like the longest, even without the two a days," Thomas said. "This training camp felt more demanding, and I'm pretty sure it was. Coach Mularkey told us our days were going to be Dog Days, They were, but you see the result. I don't think anybody has any complaints."

No complaints. Not now. Not Sunday. Because on Sunday, the regular season begins, and that's what it's all about.

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