JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Brad Meester never endured the hot-weather, football equivalent of having to trudge uphill to school through several feet of snow.
For that matter, ever since the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him in the second round of the 2000 NFL draft, not once has Meester been required to live out of a college dormitory during training camp. The Jaguars have always stayed at a hotel during the dog days of summer; this year, in their first camp under Gus Bradley, it’s the Omni downtown.
But being the lone player remaining from when Tom Coughlin was the team’s first head coach, it’s not without good reason that the 6-foot-3, 292-pound center tends to hold court surrounded by a collection of younger offensive linemen in a corner of the locker room.
As the voice of 14 years worth of experience, Meester can appreciate how less taxing things are now than when Coughlin and Jack Del Rio were in charge. It’s not a criticism of the approach both of those coaches took but a realization of the effect of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement that limits full contact practices in the preseason, as well as on-field practice time and contact.
“I’ve said it before: They ought to be thankful how nice this is,” Meester said. “You’re able to take care of your body. You’re not as beaten down as what we used to do. But there’s the other side of that. You’ve really got to be on top of your stuff because there are only so many padded practices before that first game.”
Gone are the days when players would have a morning practice session followed by another in the afternoon, with both often being held in full pads. Bradley usually has the Jaguars on the field by 9:55 a.m. and wraps things up between noon and 12:30 p.m. Most of the afternoon is spent in meetings broken down by positions, with an hour-long indoor walkthrough in the early evening.
Perhaps best of all to a family man such as Meester, it’s no longer even the same thing day after day after day.
“Now we’re required to have days off, every four or five days,” he said. “Back then, when I said goodbye to them, I didn’t see them for two weeks, three weeks. You were gone. It was hard to see them.”
Meester and his wife, Jamie, are the parents of six daughters – Lily (11), Emma (8), Chloe (6), Sophia (3), Aubree (1 ½) and Adalynn (3 months). In a sense, he’s a younger and more athletic version of comedian Jim Gaffigan, the author of a recent best-selling book about the adventures of raising five children in a two-bedroom flat in New York City.
Having turned 36 in March, maintaining a balance between his professional and personal life is a high priority for Meester.
During previous offseasons, he established a reputation as being the first player to arrive to use the Jaguars’ training facilities, although Bradley has said quarterback Blaine Gabbert took over that claim for a few weeks before camp.
“I just like to get up early,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff that I’ve got to get done before we start, whether it’s just going in and getting treatment, getting stretched out, getting a little bit of film work done. Especially during the season, I would rather get up early and do that in the morning so that when we’re done, I can go home and see my kids and do stuff with them and not take that time away from them.”
On the field, Meester owns a current streak of 74 consecutive starts, which is tied for the second-longest in team history. His 193 starts and games played are both franchise records, with the first 48 of those coming when he was a left guard.
The selection of tackle Luke Joeckel with the No. 2 overall draft pick and the return of guard Will Rackley, who missed all of the 2012 season after suffering an ankle injury, should bring stability to a line which struggled at times to protect Gabbert and Chad Henne.
Proving to new offensive line coach George Yarno, who started in 63 games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during his playing days, and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch that he can learn and adapt has been a challenge for Meester.
“Obviously terminology is a big part of it,” he said. “It’s really all terminology. It’s the same play, but it’s called something else. And the blocks are called something else. And how you ID it is something else.”
And then there is the pace of Bradley’s practices, where little to no time is wasted.
“We are moving nonstop,” Meester said. “Everything’s fast-paced. When we go from drill to drill, there’s very little down time. You run to the next one and we’re going. Everything’s quick. And that’s good. When you work hard like that and uptempo like that in practice, the game seems so much easier.”
With the near-total overhaul of the coaching staff and with Meester being a free agent after last season, it wasn’t automatically assumed that he would be brought back for what he says will be his final year. But there was no need for him to explore the possibility of latching on elsewhere.
“I never really wanted to go anywhere else,” he said. “It could have been an option, but that’s not what I wanted to do. I wanted to stay here. If I wasn’t able to come back here, I was just going to retire. And I really wanted to come back. I wanted to be able to play one more year.”
Kicker Josh Scobee, cornerback Marcus Trufant, long snapper Jeremy Cain and defensive end Jason Babin are the only other players on the Jaguars’ roster over the age of 30. Bradley hasn’t seen any indication of them being content with simply keeping their jobs.
“It’s my hope that’s not what the older guys are doing,” he said. “I hope they’re coming out here and teaching the level and the standard where we need to get to and holding our younger guys accountable to that standard. If they’re trying to hang on to their position – I don’t believe there’s anybody like that, but if there was, they may not be here very long.”