JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - For about the last 10 years it hasn't been much fun at Jaguars games. There were a few good ones in the middle of the last decade but even when the home team won, it felt a little drab.
The energy at the stadium for the first preseason game against Tampa Bay was apparent from the moment you stepped out of your car.
Pools, cabanas, field-side seats, all contributed to a completely new feel for the experience. And of course the new video boards. The largest in the world, they're everything you'd expect and more when it comes to following the game with replays, stats and crowd shots.
Jaguars President Mark Lamping says the stadium will be ever changing, like a living thing. "You have to keep improving. We'll have full Wi-Fi by the first home game; we're working on all kinds of different things to improve the game-day experience."
On the field the goal is to keep improving as well. Head Coach Gus Bradley has instilled a new meaning to the word "victory" for his players. "We want to get better every day. We're looking for consistency, stacking good days on good days."
Against the Buccaneers it was a strange experience for regular patrons at Jaguars games. They saw defensive pressure and an INT return for a TD. They saw pass plays downfield and third-down conversions. But they also saw some inconsistency. Some inexplicable plays and the all-too-familiar mistakes in critical situations.
But it was the first game. In preseason.
"You have to take advantage of your opportunities," starting quarterback Chad Henne said after his first quarter performance. "You get three series or so in the and with the ones, you definitely want to move the ball." Henne didn't play up to his own expectations but knows it's just a start. "You can't stay in there the whole game. That's the most frustrating thing that we didn't get down there. We have to move the ball and get into the red zone."
Henne gave way to the Jaguars first round draft pick Blake Bortles in the second quarter. Bortles was playing with the Jaguars second team offense against the Bucs second team defense. He had the poise of a veteran, and stood under pressure, delivering passes where he wanted to.
"I like how he sticks his foot in the ground and fires it in there," former Jaguars QB Mark Brunell told me after the game. "I was impressed."
Bradley liked what he saw but said it doesn't change his plan for Bortles in the preseason. He'll stick with the second string.
"I thought he played with good poise, good command. It's a little bit unrealistic because there was one blitz from Tampa the whole day, one pressure. So it was all four-man rush and good protection," Bradley said, trying to lower expectations.
On defense it was strange to see such pressure on the quarterback from the Jaguars. The offseason additions have given the Jaguars that kind of ability.
"There is definitely a noticeable difference with our d-line play," Bradley noted. "You saw them get after the quarterback right from the start. We're really excited about that group because we know that's something they can do all year long."
Sen'Derrick Marks agrees. "It's great. We were talking about it on the sidelines. It doesn't seem like there's any drop off. The whole ‘this guy's a starter' doesn't mean anything. We've got guys on the second team that have experience. Tyson (Alualu) was a first-round pick that has experience; Ziggy (Hood) was a first-round
pick that has experience. We've got guys that can rotate in and keep the same pressure on the quarterback as our first team."
Those off-season additions by Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell were important from their production capabilities but also how they fit into the Jaguars locker room and culture.
Winston Guy said it was noticeable as soon as they showed up.
"Clem and Big Red and a lot of guys that Coach Gus brought in that are really familiar with the defense – it just seemed like there was a connection with everybody, and we just wanted to go out there and set a tone as a team."
And there was just enough that didn't go well in the 16-10 victory that will give Bradley and the coaching staff enough to point out: We can get better.
One of their prized acquisitions in the draft, Marqise Lee, didn't show up against the Bucs and Bradley can point to exactly why that happened.
"I think that's one of the things we're looking at. It's the consistency: run your routes every time (as if is) coming to you. You can't change speeds. You can't choose when and when not to. I've told you before that I've seen him switch to where he's more focused."
So the focus in practice this week will be simple: Get better.
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