Jaguars report for training camp amid high expectations
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) Gus Bradley looks like he could pass the team's conditioning test.
Although Bradley declined to provide specifics about his weight loss, he clearly shed some pounds before his fourth training camp as Jacksonville's head coach.
Just about everyone inside the building has noticed, especially players returning from a 39-day break.
''Looking lean, coach, looking lean,'' veteran linebacker Paul Posluszny said as he passed Bradley in the hallway Wednesday.
All Bradley would say about his more-svelte look was that he used his time off much like he asked his players to do at the end of organized team activities in June, when he challenged them to make the most of their down time.
''I just want to make sure we are at our best and we can be at our best,'' Bradley said. ''Sometimes we lose sight of that as coaches. I want to make sure that I'm personally at my best for this team.''
Bradley now has 47 days to get his team in shape before the season opener against Green Bay. It's an important stretch for Jacksonville, which is heading into its most anticipated season in nearly a decade.
The Jaguars open camp Thursday with high expectations stemming from a four-year rebuilding project that included four top-five draft picks and more than $350 million spent the last two years in free agency.
''I know there is a lot of excitement about this team. There is a lot of excitement in our locker room,'' Bradley said. ''That's what we hoped would happen. If we create this culture and mindset, we should see this locker room and guys where we get better and have a great attitude.
''The confidence should be building, and these things are happening in front of our eyes. ... I believe so strongly in this process and I believe it will bring the results that we want. It's important to stay true to it.''
Bradley planned to address the ''high expectations'' during a team meeting later Wednesday.
The Jaguars signed defensive tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara in free agency and then used their top two draft picks on Florida State cornerback Jalen Ramsey and UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. Coupled with the return of defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. (knee) and defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks (triceps) from injuries, and Jacksonville could have a number of new starters on the defensive side of the ball.
''When you look at who we have, who we brought in and just the overall level of expectation from us as players, we can all kind of feel it to say, `Hey, we have some great talent now. Let's bring it together, play at a consistent level, and see where this team can go,''' Posluszny said. ''Personally and as a group I know we're really excited about starting this.''
Getting all those defensive newcomers to jell will be one of the main goals of camp.
The Jags have a similar issue on the offensive line, where third-year pro Brandon Linder returns from a shoulder injury and moves from guard to center. They also have to figure out who will play left tackle, embattled starter Luke Joeckel or free-agent acquisition Kelvin Beachum.
Offensively, the Jaguars made huge strides last season. Receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson formed one of the best tandems in the league, and Blake Bortles set franchise records for completions (355), attempts (606), passing yards (4,428) and touchdown passes (35). But Bortles also led the NFL in interceptions (18) and sacks (51), and completed just 58.6 percent of his passes.
And Jacksonville really struggled to run the ball, especially in short-yardage and goal-line situations. The Jags responded by signing bruising running back Chris Ivory in free agency.
Bradley, who notably said before last season that ''it's built,'' really believes the pieces are in place this year for the Jaguars to be more competitive in the AFC South. Of course, that's not hard to do since the team is just 12-36 in Bradley's three seasons.
The Jaguars anticipate much better results - maybe in line with Bradley's weight loss - in 2016.
''I really firmly believe they will rise to the level of expectation as long as they are realistic and high expectations,'' Bradley said.
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