JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s go time for the Jaguars.
The team reported to training camp on Sunday with big goals in front of them, the biggest one to turn the fortunes of the franchise around. Easier said than done.
Camp began Monday morning at Episcopal School of Jacksonville (construction on the team’s new Miller Electric Center is underway at the stadium) and some quiet momentum for the Jaguars. Sure, the team was 3-14 last year and has struggled significantly since Shad Khan bought the team from Wayne Weaver in 2012. It has reached the playoffs just once in a stunning run to the AFC championship game in 2017.
Before that and especially since, the Jaguars have run the gamut from bad to below average to seriously dysfunctional, the latter coming during the 2021 season under Urban Meyer.
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But there are flickers of hope that better days are ahead, and perhaps even as soon as this season.
Gone is Meyer and the baggage that he brought and in is Doug Pederson, a Super Bowl-winning coach with the Eagles who has made rebuilding trust a central theme since his arrival. The flickers of hope encircling the franchise are largely the result of those years of significant struggles.
It’s the second year for quarterback Trevor Lawrence, whose generational prospect upside was torpedoed in his rookie season by the incompetence of Meyer, injuries and the absence of playmakers. Lawrence said earlier this month that he was in a better position than he was a year ago across the board.
“And I feel like I’m in a great, great spot right now,” he said. “Gained a little bit of weight. Physically, I feel great, I’m throwing the ball really well. I feel sharp, mentally. So just polishing up all those things. Because once we start, you know the 24th, we’re going to be full speed and just excited to get with all the guys and put something together.”
The Jaguars also spent wildly in free agency, throwing out roughly $260 million in contract money — and $100 million more than any other team in the league — to retool their roster. Often, that’s a blueprint for problems but Jacksonville’s talent deficiencies forced the team spend big to address them. Major upgrades came on the offensive line (right guard Brandon Scherff), linebacker (Foye Oluokun), cornerback (Darious Williams) and receiver (Christian Kirk and Zay Jones).
Will all of that, plus the growth of Lawrence and the return of running backs James Robinson and Travis Etienne, be enough to help turn things around? Jacksonville has had the No. 1 pick in the draft each of the past two seasons. It took Lawrence last year and Georgia edge rusher Travon Walker this time around.
In Pederson, the team gets a proven winner to lead the turnaround, a big step forward over the in-over-his-head Meyer. While camp is closed to the general public this year, fans won’t have to wait too long to get a glimpse of how the Jaguars look. The team opens the NFL preseason slate on Aug. 4 against the Raiders in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio.