JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The Jaguars' longest-tenured player is also the only current member of the team to know what it's like to play in a playoff game with the Jacksonville squad.
Tight end Marcedes Lewis has been in Jacksonville for his entire 12-year career. The team last made the playoffs in 2007 and Lewis was the starting tight end at the time.
The then second-year player caught six passes for 90 receiving yards in two playoff games during that run.
It's been over a decade since Lewis and the Jaguars made back to the postseason.
Despite all of the money invested in big name free agents and top picks spent on high-profile prospects, the Jaguars have consistently trended downward since being beat by the New England Patriots in January 2008.
Every year brings Lewis a sense of optimism, but he said this current Jaguars team may have the most talent he has played with since his last playoff appearance.
"I was just talking to somebody yesterday about just talking talent, first. We might have the most talent that I’ve ever been around, top to bottom," Lewis said on Wednesday.
"I think that ’07 team, we had some guys that could do some good things on offense, but remember, we had a ridiculous running game, so we leaned on the running game, our play action game was solid. They didn’t have to do too much and we were able to do some good things because our defense was stout up front, safeties had some good corners, but now I feel like we have that."
Lewis is reassured by the roster moves made in the offseason by general manager Dave Caldwell. He is hopeful the new additions will live up to their hype and the incumbent players will elevate their performances from last year.
"Our defense, we plugged some holes up," Lewis said.
"On offense, the backfield is as stout as you can get and we have some guys that can really do some really good things on the outside. Couple pieces now on the o-line, I feel like Blake [Bortles] is going to have another breakout year this year so we have a chance to do some really good things. It’s hard for me to stand up here and make predictions, I really don’t like doing that, but I think coming that first game, we’re going to have our best product within the last decade on that field.”
With new head coach Doug Marrone and football executive Tom Coughlin now in charge, Lewis sees a familiarity to the philosophies he embraced early on his career. His early days were when the team was most successful.
"When Jack [Del Rio] was here when I got drafted in ’06, just from a training camp point of view, our days would be long days, short nights, here till 9:30," Lewis said.
"It’s the same kind of thing, but now we’re up earlier now like we’re up even earlier this time around. I think it’s going to be super challenging for everybody, but I also think this is going to be our war scars. I think it’s important that we lean on each other, I think that the way it’s set up with the coaches, [they] are going to put a lot of pressure on us to do well. It’s one of those things you have to go through it and come out of this thing, and we should be stronger and better for it.”
Players began arriving at EverBank Field prior to 6 a.m. on Thursday. Lewis said it's all part of the toughness mentality that Marrone and Coughlin are trying instill in their team.
“To play this game, you have to be mentally tough and physically tough, so depending on what coach you have, being physically tough will be an emphasis, but certain coaches, that’s what they hang their hat on and I know that’s what Coach Marrone hangs his hat on," Lewis said.
"I know that we probably could’ve used that maybe two years ago, too, with the young team we had, kind of setting the tone, letting them know this is what it’s going to be; adapt, adjust or be out. I think that’s the mentality and it’s going to take some of the veteran guys really getting that message across because at the end of the day, we’re out there on that field playing, the coaches aren’t. I know for me, I’ve had two GMs, two owners, like five head coaches, so at some point, it’s going to be a lot of coaching going on. Like I have so much in my mind that now my mind automatically cuts right to the meat and potatoes, no French pastry, I don’t care about other stuff. It goes right to the point. I want to win."
Follow Mike Kaye on Twitter at @Mike_E_Kaye.