After going 5-11 last season with a young roster, the Jacksonville Jaguars enter the 2016 season with something they haven’t had in a long time: expectations. Yes, the Jags, who lost six games by a touchdown or less last season, are expected to contend for a playoff spot.
“We definitely feel the energy and the buzz that’s going around,” Jaguars linebacker Telvin Smith said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “But in the locker room, I think more than anything, we’re just focused. All this hype could be for us or against us. Right now, we’re just trying to go out and push one another. We know we have the talent. We just got to go out and execute.”
With a young nucleus that includes Blake Bortles, Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Malik Jackson and Prince Amukamara, among others, the Jaguars have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball.
“You can’t forget about our running backs,” Smith pointed out. “With T.J. (Yeldon) and Chris Ivory, this is one of those moments . . . (where), on paper, you see nothing but Pro Bowlers and great talent. But like I said, we got to put it together, and we got to go out and execute. Those guys on offense, though, they’re looking great. It seems like they’re picking up and taking a couple steps forward from what they were doing last year. With Chris Ivory coming in as a two-headed monster in the backfield, like I said, we have all the pieces. It’s just going to come down to execution and poise to see who we are as a team and where we’re really trying to go. We have the tools. We have everything we need. We just got to put it together. Every week, you learn something about your teammates and this game. As we go, we’re going to see how it goes.”
If Smith sounds optimistic, that’s because he is. The fans are as well, but they’re maybe a little more guarded. After all, Jacksonville went 9-39 from 2012-14.
“Jacksonville fans are great fans,” Smith said. “They always come out and support, even through the losing seasons. I think that’s what they’re used to. But right now, we’re just going out and understanding that if we start off good, fans, they’re going to start going crazy – just because it’s been that way in Jacksonville. I think they’re kind of on the bubble a little bit. They want to go hard and everybody does have excitement because we do have the players, but they’re waiting to see what we do and we’re waiting to go out and show them what we’ve been doing and putting together.”
That starts, first and foremost, with Bortles. The 24-year-old threw for 35 touchdowns last season after throwing for just 11 as a rookie in 2014.
“Blake Bortles is a savvy, rough gunslinger,” Smith said. “When you need him to come through, it seems like he’s there to make that throw or get those couple yards. He just understands things around him. I’m looking forward to see him grow this season.”
The Jaguars have not finished with a winning record since 2007, when they went 11-5. They went 8-8 in 2010 but have finished with five wins or fewer in six of the last eight seasons. Gus Bradley is 12-36 in three years in Jacksonville, and the general feel is that he needs a strong season to save his job.
If that is the case, though, that’s news to Smith.
“I honestly say when it comes to him, we don’t see that,” he said. “Obviously I think everybody has that urgency to want to win and produce right now, but I’m not seeing it as, ‘This might be my last run, so we got to change this and we got to do that.’ I think we’re just going to continue being who we are, and we’re going to go . . . play hard, win ball games and execute. Everything else is going to take care of itself. If we start to look at how the fans see us or how everybody’s seeing us and (if) Gus is on the (hot seat), that’s a distraction right there that we’re taking away from ball. So on his end, we’re not seeing it, and on our end, we’re just blocking everything out and getting ready for this season.”