In January of 2013, Dave Caldwell made the short trek from Atlanta to Jacksonville to take over the football operations of the struggling Jaguars.
His first order of business was moving on from head coach Mike Mularkey and tabbing the defensive-minded Gus Bradley, one of the architects of the “Legion of Boom” in Seattle.
Most around Northeast Florida understood that the Jaguars was one of the least talented teams in football when Caldwell arrived after making his NFL bones as the Falcons’ director of player personnel.
The rebuilding, though, has gone slowly and tediously over the first three years of the Caldwell and Bradley marriage in the Sunshine State, resulting in just four, three and five wins respectively.
That’s a less than awe-inspiring 12-36 mark and a dismal .250 winning percentage in a league that is often defined by parity.
And it’s a far longer rope than most get in today’s social media-fueled environment where news and criticism tend to move at the speed of Twitter.
Slowly, though, Caldwell has fortified his roster with talent, starting with emerging third-year quarterback Blake Bortles and one of the best receiver tandems in the league, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns, on offense.
The other side of the ball got the makeover this offseason with both free agency (Malik Jackson, Tashaun Gipson and Prince Amukamara) and the draft (Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and a redshirted Dante Fowler) chipping in, although concerns exist with Jack, who hasn’t earned a starting spot just yet, and Fowler, who wasn’t all that productive in the preseason.
Caldwell brushed off both, however.
“I’m encouraged by the idea of taking a player in the second round and not needing them to be an impact player right away,” Caldwell told reporters on Wednesday when discussing Jack, the talented UCLA product who fell in the draft due to concerns over what good be a degenerative knee issue. “That’s a good thing. When he gets on the field, he’ll be a very good player. The fact he doesn’t have to right away is a good thing for this organization.”
Fowler, meanwhile, has flashed the pre-injury athleticism that excited the Jaguars in the first place.
“It’s been truly interesting to see him come off an ACL injury like he has and have the amount of explosion and quickness and speed he possesses and not even for one second think about that injury,” Caldwell said. “He’s flying around.”
All that sound great but the excuses are running thin for Caldwell and his coach and the GM seems to realize it, shifting away from the talent-deficient narrative to a more optimistic tone.
“The previous years, I felt like we had to be perfect just to be in a game late,” Caldwell said. “Now, we can overcome a bad play, a fumble, a backed-up situation, a deficit. Offensively, we can score quickly and defensively, I think we can hold the fort down.”
Everyone tends to get a honeymoon but few last as long as what the Jaguars’ brain trust has gotten and both realize the leash is about to get a lot smaller.
“Our pressure comes from within,”… We’ve been doing this for four years, and to have a winning record is probably a reasonable expectation,” Caldwell admitted. “I think (owner Shad Khan) will make a decision at the end of 16 games and say it’s the direction he likes or doesn’t.”
And that acknowledgment means the bigger pressure is coming from outside.
-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SBNation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.