'We've got to learn to deal with it.' The Jaguars, social media and the E word
The Jaguars are facing a new opponent this year: (high) expectations
JACKSONVILLE -- These are heady times in Duval.
The Jacksonville Jaguars -- the team that won just 14 games the past four seasons, including only five last season, while failing to reach the postseason every year since 2007 -- are a sexy pick to win the AFC South. Expectations are soaring, and their offseason haul of free agents and draft picks is being lauded league-wide.
It's a bizarre dichotomy to be sure, a team that hasn't accomplished much of anything in the short- or long-term being media darlings before a game is played, but given that this is the AFC South and seeing some of their shiny new toys on the field at once, especially the very young and fast ones, it's easy to understand why optimism abounds here.
It does put the staff in a unique position, however. Despite not sniffing a .500 season under their guidance, much of the outside world is projecting big things for them all of a sudden.
Instead of being asked about their job security, coach Gus Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell are instead having to make sure the runaway hype train doesn't park itself in the locker room and undermine their unwavering message of incremental progress and respective the process. They won't be able to incubate this young team from the predictions and the projections -- particularly if the Jags get off to a quick start -- but certainly want to avoid anyone getting caught up in the preseason hoopla.
"We haven't done anything yet," Bradley said. "And we've got to make sure that we hit every practice and continue to improve and let's see how it comes about. These preseason games and these practices are so meaningful to us. We've got a lot of things to figure out so a lot of our attention is on that.
"But then on the outside, that word 'expectation' comes in, and we've talked to our players about that and I generally think the nature of people is you rise to the level of expectations as long as it's a realistic expectation. So to us expectations are a good thing, because you generally rise to that level. So our players in any conversation with them, it's more along those lines: As long as we keep it realistic, hey, here's what we want to get accomplished and need to do."
No one is naïve enough to say they are not aware of what's bubbling all around them, locally and nationally. My man Pete Prisco has been riding in the boiler room of that hype train for months, and gushing over the Jags has become the thing to do among the football media.
Personally, I anticipate a much better product -- especially on defense -- and a competitive team that will push for a division crown in an improved-but-still lacking AFC South, but I'm just not ready to crown them yet. To me, they're going to have to walk before they run, and this team has barely been crawling the past decade or so, though you can debate the overall improvements to the roster now.
"With social media and stuff, I'm sure people are aware of it," receiver Allen Hurns said of the predictions. "But as far as inside (the locker room), we don't talk about it at all. We just talk about staying consistent and taking care of what we have to ... You've got to see it with social media nowadays, but we don't talk about it much."
It's not something Bradley is addressing with them with any regularity as well. He'd be the last one to put the end result before all of the hard work it would require to eventually get there.
"Now we've got to learn to just deal with it," Bradley said, "and as this team grows, there is going to be more and more things to deal with and more and more excitement and more and more outside distractions. So I think it's a good process for our team to go through to learn how to deal with that and handle that."
While the Jaguars are oozing with youth, there are few old heads around to help them stay the course. Tight end Marcedes Lewis has been here long enough to recall when the Jags were an actual playoff threat and understands just how little they have accomplished the past few years.
"For the first time in a long time our roster is competitive," Lewis said, "and there is real depth at every position and guys are literally fighting for their job. So when you have that you're able to carry that over to Sundays. When you are comfortable sometimes you can get that mixed up and you think everything is 'okay' and you think that you've got it. And you can never be too comfortable in this league, because the moment you do that, you're off on your ass ...
"We have the pieces in place, and on paper we look amazing, but we have to continue to gel and understand that it's going to take everybody doing their job very well. And once we get that under control and see how things go with the preseason games, and get down to the final roster, then we just flow. Not put too much emphasis on anything; just flow and play your game.
"I think in years before it was like, 'We've got to do this.' Or, 'We've got to win this game.' Or, 'We've got do that.' And then you have people trying to be Superman and going outside themselves because we've been losing for years and they feel like they have to do it all. Chill. Calm down. You know what I mean? But that (stuff) is real man, and people on the outside don't understand that. But it's real."
Last year's first-round pick Dante Fowler is back from an injury that wiped out his entire rookie year and flying around. Myles Jack looks good despite his knee issues. This year's top pick, safety/corner Jalen Ramsey, is flashing beastly potential. Add that young talent to the signings of Malik Jackson and Tashaun Gipson, there may be playmakers galore. Some will need time to transition than others, but Bradley now has a full compliment of pieces to be able to put that complicated Seattle defense in place.
Offensively, the team already showed it could put up points and yards in bunches -- though the offensive line could end up being a significant caveat if its depth is compromised even a little. Blake Bortles continues to develop on the path he's on, and that can cover a lot of smaller ills as well. The future certainly looks bright, and the potential high-end talent on this roster trumps anything we've seen in these parts for quite some time.
Whether that's enough to quench the playoff drought remains to be seen, but this will certainly be a more relevant Jags team than we've seen for quite some time, whether they meet the suddenly lofty expectations or not.
"Regardless of outside perspectives of where we're at, the last three years people continually talked bad and rightfully so," said linebacker Paul Posluszny, who has been here since 2011. "Our record showed that. So nothing is going to change for us. We need to prepare to our highest ability and try to do everything we can to play at our highest ability, and everything else will take care of itself.
"But we feel like the group we have now is definitely the most talented group Jacksonville has had for a long time, we feel like we have impact players on each level of this defense and around this entire team. Collectively, this is the best, most talented group we've had."
Notes from Jaguars camp
- Fowler will hit double-digit sack numbers if he can stay healthy, and the Jags will see how much Jack plays on running plays versus obviously passing situations. Posluszny looked sharp on Sunday, picking off Bortles twice in the red zone, and he obviously has a deep knowledge of this defense and all that goes into playing inside linebacker within it.
- Projected starting left tackle Kelvin Beachum is still limited to doing light drills on his own as he recovers from knee surgery. His former team, the Steelers, had major concerns about his ability to stay healthy. If he's not right, it's a big problem. No one is really pretending former top pick Luke Joeckel has a future as a tackle -- he's working primarily at left guard, and sources said he's likely to start there, though he may get a rep or two on the outside. That leaves little-known former college free agent Josh Wells, in his third year out of James Madison, as the guy protecting Bortles's blindside now. This bears significant monitoring.
- Emerging elite center Brandon Linder is still not practicing either, but he should be fine. He has quickly become a glue guy for this unit.
- Love the steady hand of offensive coordinator Greg Olson with Bortles and this young offense. He's been in this situation many times before and excels in bringing quarterbacks along (check his work with Josh Freeman, for starters).
- Been a lot of drops out of the receivers and tight ends over the weekend, and that's something that needs to be curbed quickly. That's been an issue for this young-but-very-talented group of receivers at times in the past.
- The early schedule could tell the tale for this team. They play three "home" games in the first four weeks, though one of them is a potential playoff game against the Colts in London. And the road game in that span is about as far away as you can get from Jacksonville (San Diego). Getting some early momentum for a team that has had big issues getting out of the gate would go a long way to fostering confidence and fulfilling some of those lofty expectations.
Pick Six Newsletter
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
Join our Free $1,000,000 Parlay Challenge
The Broncos coach has a radical suggestion for the NFL
Daniel Jones is still dealing with a high ankle sprain
The former Redskins running back is being charged by the Department of Justice for defrauding...
Jordan Love highlights list of draft eligible prospects
We'll see the two top prospects in this game in a one-on-one battle often
SportsLine's Mike McClure, a DFS pro with almost $2M in winnings, gives optimal lineup advice.
The Eagles trailed 17-3 at halftime, but rallied in the second half to win
The Rams narrowed the gap in their playoff push, while the Seahawks fell out of the No. 1 seed
Live scores, highlights and updates from the Jaguars vs. Chargers football game