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Have the Jacksonville Jaguars closed the talent gap?

LONDON -- During a rare, quiet moment before the Jaguars left for practice on Friday, general manager Dave Caldwell milled around the second floor of the team's hotel looking out at a group of players cycling in and out of a buffet line.

He pointed to a couch off to the side where wide receivers Allen Hurns and Allen Robinson were sitting and talking. The two are inseparable and Caldwell takes solace in that. He also takes solace in the fact that neither of them left Jacksonville much this summer, opting to stay near camp and run voluntary workouts along with quarterback Blake Bortles. The theme was progress, which can be an awkward subject for the general manager of a team that is 10-44 since he took over. It can be especially hard for Caldwell, who is relentless in his optimism, but also his discipline. He won't allow himself to complain about the situation he inherited -- or even think that way. Even the team's owner, Shad Khan, called it "heavy lifting."

Caldwell prefers to look at it another way.

"Offensively, if you look at it, our leading playmakers are Blake and Robinson and Hurnsey and T.J. (Yeldon). Well, the first five or six games of the season, most of our plays have come from those guys and they're all respectively in their second, second, second and first year in the league. So that's encouraging.

"Now, we get some vets back. We got to line up Julius Thomas last week and he'll help us. And the guys who don't get much attention, like Brandon Lindor, I think moving forward he's going to be a key cog in our offensive line. Luke Joeckel is playing the best football he's played in his three years. Then, we drafted A. J. Cann in the third round this year and he's stepped in for Brandon Linder and played well, jumped in there and had Gerald McCoy and J.J. Watt back to back but held his own."

Caldwell, who hopes to see a victory on Sunday over the Bills here in London, is not a snake oil salesman. Joeckel and Cann have only given up a sack each through almost 300 snaps. Linder kept a clean sheet before losing his season to injury. But Caldwell is trying to do something that requires patience in an era that doesn't always allow it. He has an owner committed to preventing the franchise from a constant sea of change. He brought in Gus Bradley not only because of his developmental ability, but also his relentlessly positive attitude. At 1-5, the team was dancing on the field Friday after sleeping on an airplane all night.

But he also understands that some people are not as optimistic -- or fascinated with the tedium of a complete roster turnaround -- as he is.

"It's hard, because you can never really balance people's expectations," he said. "They're always going to expect the best, and we try to give them the best. But realistically, in the NFL, it's difficult and the way we've done it, we knew this was going to be a difficult task in terms of being committed to the draft and supplementing through free agency once we got to a point.

"The first two years were probably unfair to our coaching staff for the most part. The amount of turnover we had, the amount of roster upheaval we had."

Here's what Caldwell won't say about the Jaguars.

In the three years before he arrived, the Jaguars had the perfect opportunity to solidify the franchise with three consecutive top-10 picks and an entire slate of early round selections. They ended up with players like Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Derek Cox, Tyson Alualu and Blaine Gabbert. Many of those picks are no longer contributing to the roster. Some, like Will Rackley and Larry Hart, fizzled out of the NFL. Many fled and are now playing for other teams.

Now, the team has two of the NFL's 20 most productive wideouts (Hurns and Robinson). Bortles, since Week 4, has been one of the five best quarterbacks in football statistically. The Jags are the only team since the 1970 NFL merger to have three players under 23 (Bortles, Hurns and Robinson) that statistically relevant.

Almost half of the team is under the age of 24 and almost the entire team is comprised of young, team-controlled talent drafted by Caldwell or signed as an undrafted free agent.

"A lot of that talent gap is going to be closed by experience," Caldwell said. "Maybe it's not closed by new players necessarily, but by experience."

In baseball, there is often a cultish following to the drafting and development of prospects. The Cubs were losing games but drawing praise for overhauling their threadbare roster and eventually watched it grow into a playoff contender.

There are no teams in the NFL getting more out of younger players, but there are plenty out there lining up to replace Caldwell and Bradley, leaving a club packed with very young talent open to another coaching staff -- different schemes that could render the talent useless.

"When coach Bradley and I got here we said we were going to draft and develop our players," Caldwell said. "We brought in a coaching staff that was a good developing coaching staff. So I think that was the biggest thing. Guys are coming out of college a lot earlier than in the past. And the way the college game is being played, we felt like we'd have to develop our players."

Thinking this way requires a mental endurance of sorts. It requires belief and patience and the ability to watch games looking for incremental progress. It also requires the ability to understand why Jacksonville's rebuild -- one that begins for many clubs with either a franchise pass rusher, quarterback or offensive lineman at least -- was different than the ones currently undertaken by the Falcons, Texans and Jets

On Friday, Bortles and Julius Thomas were talking about leading games in the fourth quarter as an example of progress. Young teams need to learn how to close out games, and the Jaguars -- many of them -- are still in graduate school. 

For some fans, this can be maddening.

But as NFL Media's Jeff Darlington wrote earlier this week, Caldwell and Bradley will be given the tools and time to see their plan through. It's a way of keeping the franchise buoyant and it's what a coach and executive committed to the rebuild deserve, even if Caldwell isn't letting himself think that way.

*Wake up and watch with the world. The NFL is live on Yahoo.For the first time ever the NFL is streaming a live game on Yahoo Bills vs. Jaguars live from London, Sunday October 25th 9:30 am ET. *

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