After the first week of camp, the Jaguars have a distinctly different feel than in previous years. This team has a little less braggadocio and a little more chippiness than in the past. Without established stars at so many positions, some young players have developed their own personalities and that’s spilled over to the rest of the team.
Damon Gibson is a perfect example. The smallest player on the squad, he’s virtually assured of a roster position because of his punt returning abilities. But without Jimmy Smith in camp, and with Keenan McCardell gone, Gibson has a chance to get plenty of reps at wideout and he’s making the most of them. Gibson’s scuffle in the opening practice with the Saints underscored the team’s willingness to throw away the protocol that used to be enforced and subtly demand some respect, no matter where you are on the depth chart.
At first it was generally considered that the Jaguars needed to start hitting somebody else when a few scuffles broke out in camp. But it seems that it’s the new personality of the Jaguars; short on big talkers, long on doers. Wali Ranier has brought that same attitude to the linebacking corps. Although Rainer, Danny Clark and T.J. Slaughter are penciled in as the starters, it seems like a wide-open competition the way Rainer approaches every practice.
“When people play us,” the veteran said this week, “they’ll leave here saying the Jaguars are a tough team.”
Toughness has always been an issue with the Jaguars, having gotten an early reputation as a “finesse” team. Even though they seemed to have tough guys on the roster, it never manifested itself on the field instilling any kind of fear among other teams. Titans Coach Jeff Fisher has played on that, calling on his team to “take it to the Jaguars” and they’ve been successful at it.
Rainer brings that no-nonsense toughness to the middle, much like T.J. Slaughter and Donovin Darius have in the past. Add Marco Coleman’s professional approach (“I’m just here to play football”) and in the course of a year, the Jaguars have changed their personality.
It’s also good that the responsibility for the team’s personality is no longer dependant on a couple of high salaried players. I never wanted to meet Leon Searcy in a dark alley, unless he was on my side, but he was about the only guy who ever instilled fear in an opponent. The Jaguars have a few of those players now, with more following suit. If it follows through to the regular season, Rainer is right; When teams leave here, they’ll know they were in a game.