JACKSONVILLE, Fla -- Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell believes his team has a chance to win every game on its schedule.
That wasn’t always the case.
Caldwell admitted that there were times during his first two seasons that he knew well before Sunday that the Jaguars had no chance. Even if they played the best they could. The roster just wasn’t talented enough to compete with the rest of the NFL.
"I remember us sitting at 0-7, 0-8, maybe 0-9 ... [and taking a] drink of scotch," Caldwell said while miming throwing back a shot of alcohol.
Things are different in 2016 because the roster is significantly better. The offense has talented, young players -- led by quarterback Blake Bortles, receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, and tight end Julius Thomas -- and Caldwell re-tooled the defense in the offseason. In addition to signing defensive tackle Malik Jackson, free safety Tashaun Gipson, and cornerback Prince Amukamara, the Jaguars drafted cornerback Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack.
Even if there are still concerns about the offensive line and pass rush, the Jaguars no longer have to do everything right just to be competitive against most teams. They can make mistakes and still win games, Caldwell said. That wasn’t the case in the first two seasons after Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley began overhauling the roster after being hired in January 2013. The Jaguars went 7-25 and lost 18 games by double digits and the on-field product was so bad that Caldwell went on record in saying that he didn’t hold Bradley responsible.
The Jaguars were 5-11 last season but there was progress. Bortles set franchise records for passing yards (4,428) and passing TDs (35), Robinson set a franchise-record with 14 touchdown catches, and the offense scored the most points (376) it has since 2007 (411). Caldwell believes the personnel additions should improve a defense that ranked 31st in scoring defense (27.3 points per game), 31st in third-down defense (43.8 percent), and 29th in total defense (375.0 yards per game) over the past three seasons.
"We can match up with virtually almost anybody," Caldwell said. "Our guys just have to perform at a high level."
The owner is expecting it. Shad Khan said in February in regards to Bradley’s job security that a winning record in 2016 is "everybody’s reasonable expectation at this point." Bradley is 12-36 in three seasons -- including a 3-20 record in September and October -- and has lost 22 of those games by double digits.
The Jaguars’ early-season schedule does them no favors: home against Green Bay, at San Diego, home against Baltimore, and in London against Indianapolis. Facing four elite quarterbacks without a proven pass rush, four new starters, and a first-time defensive coordinator is a tough task.
Yet don’t expect an in-season coaching change to be made if the Jaguars go winless in that stretch or struggle the rest of the season, Caldwell said.
"You’d have to ask Shad about that, but that’s usually not his mindset," Caldwell said. "I think he’s going to make a decision at the end of 16 games and say, 'this is going in a direction that I like or this is not going in a direction that I like.'"
Right now, though, Caldwell likes the direction.
"The previous years I felt like we had to be perfect just to be in to a game late into a game, where here we can overcome a bad play, a fumble, a backed-up situation, a deficit," he said. "Offensively we can score quickly and defensively I think we can hold the fort down.
"… That's the biggest thing: We have a chance."