The phrase "light at the end of the tunnel" refers to someone traveling through a pitch-black tunnel. It's hard to tell where the exit is because it's so dark. Then you see a speck of light in the darkness. It's small, but it's there, and it's clear where the exit is...you just have to make it there.
Sound familiar? That "pitch-black" tunnel bit sure sounds like the Gene Smith Jaguars. The team never seemed to really make any progress; the roster just stumbled around in the dark, groping for hand-holds and hoping not to trip on a railroad tie.
When general manager Dave Caldwell and head coach Gus Bradley took over for the previous regime (GM Gene Smith and HC Mike Mularkey), it was a breath of fresh air. Both were transparent about their belief that the team was in a rebuilding mode and should treat the season as a step toward a greater goal.
Through eight games, the Jaguars were 0-8, and some intimated that the new regime might actually be worse than the previous one. Be patient! Nothing worthwhile is built in eight games.
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The Jaguars bounced back with a win over the Tennessee Titans in their first game after their Week 9 bye, then lost at home to Arizona. It was still pretty dark in Jacksonville but then the Jaguars won three consecutive games and suddenly there it was: a spot of light in the darkness.
Coach Bradley's philosophy started to show up on the field: Players were giving maximum effort at all times, the defense was playing fast and hitting hard and the offense was creative and tried to take advantage of defensive schemes.
Jaguars HC Gus Bradley on season: "We have to look at the big picture...Within our team, there’s a feeling of great growth that took place."— John Oehser (@JohnOehser) December 29, 2013
The personnel simply wasn't there to sustain that performance, and the Jaguars finished the season by losing three consecutive games, but the light had grown from a speck to a visibly larger circle. It will grow larger still with the benefit of another offseason and another draft.
In Jacksonville, the foundation is in place. Long-term pieces like Sen'Derrick Marks, Alan Ball and Austin Pasztor are being identified, while placeholders like Chad Henne will be moved on from when their replacements are obtained.
The cornerstones of a football team's foundation include strong leadership and maximum effort, and the Jaguars already possess those traits as they evolve in the image of their head coach and leader. Next up: a franchise-level quarterback and a pass rush.
Selecting No. 3 overall in the 2014 NFL Draft will help; the Jaguars will have the ability to add a franchise passer or elite pass-rusher and potentially fill the other of these holes in the second round. Jacksonville will also have a lot of room under the salary cap to be a major player in free agency if they choose to be one.
Jaguars fans are welcome to be disappointed in the fact that the team didn't land one of the top-two picks in what some consider to be a two-player draft, but there will be plenty of talent left on the board for Caldwell to choose from. Apart from that, fans should be excited in the direction of the franchise.
Are you happy with the direction of the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise?
The Jaguars have a philosophy in place that seems extremely conducive to winning. They have a coaching staff that gets the most out of its players and a front office that understands the business of football instead of acting as a scouting team with a checkbook. Some core pieces are in place, and others are on the way.
That light at the end of the tunnel sure is growing quickly. Pretty soon, it'll be a hole you can drive a half matte black, half gold train through. Better hop on quickly...the train's filling up fast. ALL ABOARD!