Jaguars looking for better results in this opener

Published On: Sep 04 2014 08:58:49 AM EDT
Updated On: Sep 04 2014 09:02:28 AM EDT
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

When asked about last year's miserable season opener, Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Cecil Shorts III shook his head and tried to recall the score.
    
"That was it, 28-2?" he asked Wednesday. "I thought it was like 40-2."

Nope, just a 26-point loss -- at home.
    
It was the worst opener in the franchise's 19-year history, a debacle against Kansas City in which Jacksonville managed 178 yards, punted 11 times, allowed six sacks and even got a bad bounce on the team's most positive play - a blocked punt that trickled out of the end zone for a safety instead of a touchdown.
    
The beatdown set the tone for Jacksonville's 4-12 season, which included eight double-digit losses in the first eight games and 10 total.
    
The Jaguars are looking for considerably better -- and more competitive -- results this time around, beginning Sunday at Philadelphia.
    
"You want to see progress," said Shorts (pictured, right). "You want and need to see progress when you're working, so we've got to take the next step. That's the next step for us. You want to see improvement from day to day, week to week, year to year."
    
Jacksonville wrote last season off as a transition year, the first under general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. The Jaguars turned over much of their roster, worked the waiver wire constantly, changed quarterbacks and strained the coaching staff and the locker room with every move.
    
Things are much more stable now.
    
And maybe the results will prove it.
    
"We're ready to put it to the test," tight end Marcedes Lewis said. "You don't want to play this game and get blown out every week. You can sit at home and do that. That's not what we're in this for. We're in this thing to give our best, and in games last year, in one way or another, we didn't. It wasn't a lack of effort. We just didn't play our best games.
    
"This year we're looking forward to coming together and being the team we know we can be."
    
There are signs the franchise is headed in the right direction.
    
Jacksonville was competitive in all four preseason games, and maybe more indicative, has seen a number of waived players picked up by other teams.
    
The opener should provide more even evidence about how much improvement, if any, Jacksonville has made heading into Caldwell and Bradley's second year.
    
"You just have to look at Week 1 as a learning experience no matter what, even if you do get the victory," cornerback Alan Ball said. "You definitely want to come out strong and hitting on all cylinders, but that doesn't always happen. There's going to be 16 teams that walk away with a loss this week.
    
"It can definitely be a tone-setter. It can also build momentum. But it can also be a learning experience."
    
Jacksonville learned a lot from its 2013 opener, mostly that the franchise's latest rebuilding effort would be a considerable undertaking.
    
Caldwell and Bradley have tried to speed up the makeover by signing several high-priced veterans in free agency. Those guys should pay dividends, especially on defense.
    
But how much they help remains to be seen. The opener, at the very least, will be a preview.
    
"If you play great, it can help you build momentum for the season," Lewis said. "If you play horrible, it can go the other way. If you sink, you can sink too low and never come up to play great. If you play great and get too high, then you can get knocked on your butt. You've got to find that even balance."
    
The bottom line is Jacksonville would like to be in more games in the fourth quarter. The majority of NFL games are decided by seven points or less, and the Jags were down by double digits at halftime eight times last season. So a start would be being close late, but it's not the goal.
    
"Just being competitive in games doesn't satisfy us," Ball said. "That's not the mentality we want. We want to get better every day, every week, position by position, group by group. But at the end of the day we still want results as well. But the results we're shooting for in this league is to be competitive in games.
    
"No matter where you go and what team you're on, you want to win. That's the step we're stepping toward."

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