JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Everything Marcell Dareus did after waking up on Monday morning was a surprise.
For the first six years of his NFL career the day after the regular season ended was all about cleaning out his locker, meeting with coaches and saying goodbye to teammates. But this Monday was different because the Jacksonville Jaguars nose tackle is getting ready for a playoff game instead of the offseason.
“I was just telling [defensive tackle] Malik Jackson earlier, I'm like, 'Man, bro, this is officially the longest season I've had in my life,’” Dareus said Monday. “After yesterday [Sunday], that was the end of my season, and I don't even know what my body's going to do this week. Just going to prepare the best I can and trust my body lifts me further than it's ever been.”
It’s funny to think that one day after the regular season ended qualifies as the longest season Dareus has ever had, but it emphasizes just how little playoff experience the Jaguars have. Outside of the Los Angeles Rams, the Jaguars have the fewest players on the active roster with the fewest playoff game experience in the 12-team field. The Rams have six players who have appeared in 21 total games.
Even Buffalo, the Jaguars’ opponent Sunday and a franchise making its first playoff appearance since 1999, has more players with more playoff experience than the Jaguars and more players who have appeared in a Super Bowl.
The Jaguars have 11 players who have appeared in a playoff game in their careers, led by defensive end Calais Campbell (nine games) and Jackson (eight). The player with the third-most playoff games under his belt? Punter Brad Nortman, who has appeared in six games.
Linebacker Lerentee McCray (four games), cornerback A.J. Bouye (three), safety Barry Church (three), tight end Marcedes Lewis (two), running back Chris Ivory (two), right tackle Jermey Parnell (two), defensive back Tyler Patmon (two) and tight end James O'Shaughnessy (one) are the only other players on the active roster with playoff experience.
Lewis is the only player on the roster who was around the last time the Jaguars made the playoffs, after the 2007 season.
“Even then I was 22, but I remember the feeling,” Lewis said. “That’s something that I want really bad.”
Playoff experience is definitely a good thing because those players have dealt with the ramped-up intensity and pressure of knowing that every mistake is magnified and the season can end in an instant -- or keep going until the final game in early February.
Coaches can only preach that so much to players who have not experienced the postseason. Having players share their experiences and educating the young players or those who haven’t played beyond the regular season, like Dareus, is invaluable.
“I think any time you have experience of something, it’s good,” coach Doug Marrone said. “So this way, as you’re up there as a coach or you’re trying to make sure you have your team focused in the direction you want to go when you’re not around your team and the player sitting next to someone, ‘Hey, what is this like and that?’ You have that experience in your locker room. I think that’s important.”
Nortman, who is one of four Jaguars players who have appeared in a Super Bowl (Campbell, Jackson and McCray are the others), said the playoff newbies will be surprised at how everything that they’ve experienced on the field during the regular season will seem like it’s going one and a half times as fast in the postseason.
“It’s ramped-up just a little bit -- the intensity, the speed, the energy in the stadiums and the opposing team,” Nortman said. “I just think the best thing that we can do as a team is to do what we’ve been doing all year, honestly, just kind of take (it) day by day, commit to the game plan, commit to each other -- and it’s worked for us so far.
“It’s not where you know you get a second chance down the line or anything like that, that there’s more weeks coming. It’s one-week seasons. Be prepared for it to be sped up and the intensity to be a little bit higher, but then it’s just playing football. Go out there and do what you do.”
The Jaguars somewhat make up for their lack of playoff experience in the locker room with a coaching staff that has plenty of postseason appearances. Twelve of the 18 coaches, including Marrone, have coached at least one game in the playoffs. Three of the six that didn’t (receivers coach Keenan McCardell, tight ends Ron Middleton, and running backs coach Tyrone Wheatley) played in a Super Bowl, and another, quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich, led Toronto to the CFL’s Grey Cup.
“Like I said before, experience is a good thing,” Marrone said. “You have it and you know what you have to get done and how you have to present it and what you have to do. You get a feel for how the practice should be and the focus and all of that. I think all that stuff helps. Anytime someone is curious about what is this like, what should we be prepared for, and you have people in your locker room, you have coaches that have been through it, that’s something that is there to support and something that could help.”