JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In the course of just a few hours on March 10, the Jaguars changed the course of the team and roster. The free agent signing of A.J. Bouye, Barry Church and Calais Campbell made a big splash in the NFL offseason, but the trio has made an even bigger splash on the field—and in the locker room.
"It was awesome. I can't say enough good things about those guys," Jaguars safety Tashaun Gipson said. "Those guys have been huge for us. A.J. turned out to be All-Pro for us, Calais turned out to be All-Pro for us. Church has been phenomenal this year. The things they did besides the game of football, the maturity level they brought in the classroom, I think it has been the biggest help for us, for sure."
Telvin Smith has endured some difficult seasons with the Jaguars, but this year, he not only enjoyed a breakout season personally, but he was a part of the existing core of defensive players who saw first hand how easily the newcomers seemed to merge with the Jaguars locker room.
"Everybody wanted to do great this year, so it was a work mentality," Smith said. "They came in and fit right into the mentality and they adopted the same mentality that we all had, so it fit. It wasn't like trying to put oil in water, it was oil in oil. They sauced up."
It doesn't always go so smoothly. When a team adds big money free agents, it can create an environment of envy. That didn't happen with the Jaguars and Campbell deserves much of the credit. In the offseason, he organized a number of team-only events away from the stadium in order for everybody to get to know their teammates.
"It was just about building that camaraderie," Campbell said. "When you care about each other, you play harder. I just put together a couple of events so guys could get around each other if they wanted to. This is the closest locker room that I've been a part of since high school. That's pretty real. It doesn't happen that way very often. It's a big part of why we're winning, because when you care about each other, you are going to go harder for each other, you are going to be more accountable to one another. That's important to winning games."
Many of Campbell's teammates admit that they were impressed with the way Campbell came into the team atmosphere and even more impressed with the speed at which the team gelled, even before training camp began.
"It all seemed to meld well," Church said. "That's a shock to me because usually its takes a while to get defenses to mold together, but we were able to do that in one offseason and that speaks to the leaders on the team to be able to get everybody on the same page."
Each of the three big dollar signees has more than lived up to their contracts—each of them has enjoyed their best individual seasons—but the difference their additions made to the culture of the Jaguars locker room has been exponential.
"I can never give those three players enough credit," Marrone said. "Those three players came in here, and the first thing that they did, they came in here and really got to know their teammates and became part of the team before they did anything else. I think that’s not easy to do and all three players did that and they did it quickly and everyone came together on that side of the ball, and I think that’s why we’ve had the success we’ve had."
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