Jaguars open camp amid renovations on, off field
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley's first team meeting of training camp included a video.
And not his usual PowerPoint presentation, either.
Bradley called his players into the stadium Thursday night to watch panoramic clips of the city on the team's new scoreboards -- the largest in the world. They were visually stunning for some and educational for others. They also helped reinforced Bradley's message about understanding and appreciating what owner Shad Khan has done for the small-market franchise.
"Now it's our turn to do our part and get better," receiver Cecil Shorts III said Friday.
There's plenty of room for improvement, too, as the rebuilding Jaguars open camp for Bradley's second season.
Jacksonville finished 4-12 last year, the team's third consecutive losing season. Despite the on-the-field woes, there has been plenty of optimism surrounding the team since. It has a lot to do with Khan's commitment, general manager Dave Caldwell's personnel decisions and Bradley's leadership.
The scoreboards are part of it, too.
The city and the Jaguars just completed a $63 million renovation to EverBank Field. The upgrades include massive scoreboards, two pools that overlook the field and 20 pricey cabanas. Khan donated $20 million to the project, bringing his investment total to $31 million since buying the team for $770 million in November 2011.
Khan already funded projects to revamp the locker room, the weight room and the training room.
"I know people are talking about us," Caldwell said. "There's a lot of positive things going around this team and it's not just the football-related stuff. It's the scoreboards, it's the stadium, it's Shad. I always say hopefully we can match what they're doing, that we don't let them down. They've raised the bar for us to be more competitive."
Being more competitive should be the goal for Jacksonville after last season.
The Jaguars lost their first eight games last year by double digits, a historically futile stretch that made it clear Jacksonville's rebuilding project was a full-blown, ground-up restoration.
The Jaguars showed some life late, winning four of five games after the rough start. They dropped their final three games and finished with a third consecutive losing record.
But the modest turnaround combined with what seemed like a solid draft and a few key free agents have the Jaguars hopeful of better results in 2014.
"It's a completely different feeling walking into the locker room because you get the sense that everybody's on the same page, Mr. Khan, Dave Caldwell, Gus," longtime place-kicker Josh Scobee said. "They're trying to get all of us buy in, too, and that's not hard to do because their message is always the same. That's what's nice: Getting that consistent message and it's always positive.
"It's a breath of fresh air. You want to see them have success because they're the type of people that deserve it the way they go about it."
The Jaguars also have something that's been missing in Jacksonville for years: stability.
Khan is committed to Caldwell and Bradley, who are intent on building through the draft and not rushing anything. That's why they're taking it slow with quarterback Blake Bortles, the third overall pick in May's NFL draft. Barring injuries, Bortles will open the season as Chad Henne's backup and might not start until 2015.
"The thing Gus talks about all the time is creating a stress-free environment," Bortles said. "Pressure is what you put on yourself and the things you can control. So obviously I put a lot of pressure on myself and the categories of things I can control. But as far as anxiety and stress and all that, there's none of that."
But plenty of talk about the scoreboards, which will be unveiled Saturday between a soccer friendly between Fulham FC and DC United and a Carrie Underwood concert.
"It's pretty special," Caldwell said. "It's a brand new stadium. We pulled up some of the slides from a meeting last year with the old scoreboards, and if you ever did a compare and contrast, it's like high school to Disney World."
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