Jaguars plan to 'own AFC South' after years of rebuilding
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley rarely creates headlines or bulletin-board material.
He consistently and somewhat boringly talks about getting better every day, believing in victory and maintaining a steady approach despite success or adversity.
So Bradley raised eyebrows when he deviated from his safe zone last week and offered a glimpse into how he really feels about his team following a massive overhaul that included three years of draft picks and about $200 million in free-agent upgrades this spring.
''We had a team meeting when we initially started training camp and we talked, `Our objective is to build a team that owns the AFC South,''' Bradley said at a kickoff luncheon inside EverBank Feld. ''And that means year-in and year-out, we're owning the AFC and the South division. That was our mindset.
''And I said, `This year, we built the team. It's built and it's time,' and our players need to have that mentality.''
The Jaguars have reasons to be optimistic heading into Sunday's season opener against Carolina.
Quarterback Blake Bortles looks much more like a franchise quarterback in his second season. After resting his arm, tweaking his mechanics and honing his footwork in the offseason, Bortles showed considerable better accuracy and consistency during training camp and the preseason. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 461 yards, with a touchdown and no turnovers. He also ran for 42 yards and a score.
The third overall pick in the 2014 draft, Bortles was supposed to watch and learn as a rookie. But he was thrust into the starting lineup in Week 4, surrounded by first- and second-year players and struggled on a weekly basis. He completed 59 percent of his passes for 2,908 yards, with 11 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. He also was sacked 55 times.
He has shown more patience, poise and precision in his sophomore season.
''Not that it comes easy, but you've seen more,'' Bortles said. ''You're seeing things again rather than last year you're seeing stuff for the first time a little bit. I'll still see things for the first time this year, but you have a little bit more of a memory bank.''
Bortles also has more talent around him.
The Jaguars signed two-time Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas, right tackle Jermey Parnell and center Stefan Wisniewski in free agency. They also drafted Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon in the second round. Although Thomas is expected to miss the first three games while recovering from a broken right hand, all four new additions should help improve an offense that ranked 31st in the league last season.
''It's been good,'' Bortles said. ''We've been able to make a first impression of who we want to be and who we want to be viewed as, as far as attacking the run and the rest of our offense stemming off of that. I think we've done a good job there.''
Here are some other things to know about the Jaguars heading into the season:
MORE COMPETITIVE: The Jaguars are 7-25 under Bradley and general manager Dave Caldwell, with 19 of those losses being by double digits. Some of those have been big-time blowouts while others were close games for a half that ended with lopsided scores. Regardless, the Jaguars know they have to be more competitive and consistent to make any kind of tangible progress in 2015.
FAST START: The Jaguars open the season with two home games, the perfect stage to show better results. The team has been downright awful to open the past four seasons, starting 2-6 in 2011, 1-7 in 2012, 0-8 in 2013 and 1-7 last year. That means they've essentially been eliminated from playoff contention well before Thanksgiving.
D-LINE CONCERNS: Jacksonville will open the season a little thin on the defensive front. Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks and defensive end Andre Branch won't play in the opener and could miss several weeks. Marks hasn't practiced since having knee surgery in January, and Branch sprained a knee ligament in the preseason. Making matters worse, rookie defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (knee) and veteran Ziggy Hood (foot) are on injured reserve.
ROOKIE KICKER: Rookie Jason Myers is tasked with replacing Josh Scobee, who was Jacksonville's kicker the past 11 seasons. The Jaguars traded Scobee to Pittsburgh to clear the way for Myers, a former Arena Football League player whose accuracy and leg strength have impressed teammates and coaches since March.
FANTASY VALUE: The Jaguars haven't had a fantasy football stud since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011. But keep an eye on Yeldon and second-year receiver Allen Robinson. Both look poised for breakout seasons.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL