On the eve of training camp, Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley opened his afternoon press conference by getting out in front of one of the more fatigued big-picture topics.
"I think last year maybe some would say that we were young; we can’t say that this year," Bradley said at the podium. "I think we have some youth but it’s the right amount of youth. I think we brought in some veteran players and some of our youth have grown to be more of a veteran presence."
Now in the third year of the Gus Bradley era, the Jaguars’ team insufficiencies should no longer be linked to the average player age. Bradley seems intent on taking a step away from the "youth" narrative, a storyline that was once sincere enough to hold the weight of the young team’s misfortune.
This isn’t to say that the team hasn’t embraced its youthful culture. In three years as general manager, Dave Caldwell has never once wagered his job on the addition of veteran free agents or overpaid dinosaurs. Caldwell has admitted in the past that he should have been more open to adding experience to his young roster, but has not once strayed from the initial plan to form a foundation through the draft and build upwards.
Three years later, the Jaguars, both on paper and on field, still bare the appearance of a young team. Moving forward, however, this youth is no longer an excuse to sustain the team's shortcomings.
In the third year of the Caldwell/Bradley era, the team finally looks to uncover more results than excuses. The Jaguars have established a respectable core of players through three drafts, and have since put their money where their mouth is by aiding the young roster with one of the most striking free agency hauls in team history.
Last season, the Jaguars’ blooming aquarium of offensive potential was plugged by the implementation of six inexperienced rookies. This season, this same group of six will look to take a collective step with a year of experience and a few veteran reinforcements.
Marcedes Lewis is still around, but tight end Julius Thomas immediately steps into the Jaguars offense this year as the undisputed veteran presence. Not only does Julius’ experience within a productive NFL offense lend itself to the Jaguars quest moving forward, but his versatility and elite skill set at the tight end position will steal some of the pressure from the other young playmakers.
Right tackle Jermey Parnell and center Stefen Wisniewski do more than bump the average age of the offensive line up -- they add legitimate depth and stability to a group that was criticized just one year ago because of their inexperience.
On defense, Sergio Brown brings experience to a safety group that was made up of second-year players at this point last year. Dan Skuta and Jared Odrick are far from dinosaurs, but both carry proficiency and discipline to starting positions within the Jaguars' defense.
The Jaguars left more than a few plays on the field last season. What followed the season was an entire offseason conversation about missed opportunities and areas in which the team has to improve. Of course, youth was not the sole reason for team struggles last season. Inexperience is far from an acceptable excuse for failure.
But youth definitely doesn’t help elevate a team to a level where they can match-up against experience. We all witnessed the inexperience that was employed on the field last season by a roster that lacked depth, reliability, and consistency.
After another offseason, another draft class, and a heavy free agency harvest, experience and youthful enthusiasm have been combined and folded over enough times to finally shed some of the excuses of rosters past.
This year, in a new season full of new expectations, youth should be far from an excuse. Youth should be celebrated, and it should be an asset that aids the team moving forward.