JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Doug Pederson has a much better feel for his team now than he did a year ago. It’s not all that surprising considering he’s entering his second season with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Still, the concerns Pederson had before the 2022 opener have been replaced by convictions. He has talent at key positions. He has experience in the offensive and defensive systems. He has leaders, playmakers and, maybe most important, guys who believe they can repeat as AFC South champions.
“There’s so much confidence right now in that locker room, and that’s the good thing,” Pederson said Wednesday.
Jacksonville returns 21 of 22 starters from last year’s team that closed the regular season with five consecutive wins and rallied to stun the Los Angeles Chargers in a wild-card game before losing at eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City. The team added standout receiver Calvin Ridley in a trade that amounts to the most significant roster upgrade.
Pederson is trying to downplay sky-high expectations, but he understands anything short of a deeper playoff run would be a disappointment. It’s why he provided players with a history lesson Wednesday about their Week 1 opponent, division rival Indianapolis.
The Jaguars have lost nine of 10 to the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It doesn’t really matter what other people think you should do or you’re going to do,” quarterback Trevor Lawrence said. “It doesn’t really matter at the end of the day as long as the guys in the locker room trust and have faith in you and you keep getting better every day.
“I think that’s what success looks like. ... You just have to go with that mindset every day of getting better and not letting bad plays, bad games, get in your head and just continuing to turn the page, learn from the good, learn from the bad and continue growing.”
The Jaguars had plenty of growing pains in Pederson’s debut season. They started 2-6 and trailed early in nearly every game. Lawrence was turning the ball over too often, and Jacksonville’s defense was inconsistent in stopping the run and pressuring quarterbacks.
Pederson refused to panic. He insisted a young team would make strides as the season progressed, and he was right. By November, the Jaguars had learned how to win.
They enjoyed come-from-behind victories against Las Vegas, Baltimore, Tennessee twice and Dallas down the stretch to secure the division for the first time in five years. It was a second-half surge that propelled Jacksonville into the playoffs and has them expecting a Year 2 jump.
“Just being in the system, you know more," Lawrence said. "You can react faster, you can play faster, you communicate better with the guys around you. But it’s a new season and that doesn’t carry over. Everyone starts the season in the same spot, so you can’t think that it’s going to be like that. You got to go out and earn it.”
It starts against the Colts, who have lost to Jacksonville at home just once (2017) since the 2012 season.
“If we can stay within the framework of what we’ve built over the spring and summer, what the coaches have instilled in us, we'll be OK," receiver Zay Jones said. “If we come to work and let your ego go, battle for the football team and truly have a championship mindset, we won’t get too far ahead of ourselves with the expectations that people see for us from the outside.”
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Mark Long, The Associated Press