JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Marcedes Lewis slipped on his headphones after practice Saturday, sprawled out in front of his locker and closed his eyes.
No doubt it’s been a while since the veteran tight end has been able to really relax in Jacksonville.
After signing a five-year, $35 million contract in August 2011, Lewis has endured two forgettable seasons with the Jaguars.
Following a 10-touchdown campaign in 2010 that earned Lewis a trip the Pro Bowl, the team rewarded him with a new deal that included nearly $17 million guaranteed. It also brought huge expectations, which Lewis has admittedly failed to meet.
But with a revamped offensive line and another new coaching staff, Lewis has high hopes for 2013.
“I just feel good about being here, and it’s about time,” Lewis said.
Lewis, 29, certainly didn’t feel good the last two seasons.
When the 6-foot-6, 272-pound Californian arrived for training camp in 2011, his mind was still 3,000-miles away. And he spent the entire season more concerned about an ugly custody battle involving his young daughter than anything happening on the field. As a result, he dropped passes, rarely picked up first downs and was pretty much an afterthought in one of the league’s worst offenses.
“People from the outside don’t necessarily know,” he said. “They think we’re machines and think we can’t be altered by real-life situations. It’s one thing for adversity to hit, but I’ve never had a daughter before. It’s a situation that hit me way more than I thought it would.
“It affected me the entire season and after that. At that time, I didn’t know how to compartmentalize it. I didn’t know how to put it in a different place. This was my first time dealing with something like this.”
Lewis finished with 39 receptions for 460 yards and no touchdowns.
He settled most of his off-the-field issues before last season and was expecting to return to form under new coach Mike Mularkey, whose tight-end friendly offense was supposed to be tailor-made for Lewis.
But after a couple of key injuries along the offensive line, the Jaguars started using Lewis more as an extra blocker than a pass-catcher.
He ended the season with 52 catches for 540 yards and four scores. His stats got a boost in the season finale, in which he caught seven passes for a career-high 103 yards.
“Obviously, we hoped for more things last year,” Lewis said. “But it just didn’t work that way. Not once did I argue or whine. That’s not who I am. But people didn’t know what was going on inside the building. On Mondays, they’re asking me not to expect any catches. You just take it as it goes.
“I’m happy that last year’s done, and I’m ready to move forward.”
New coach Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch expect big things from Lewis in 2013.
The offensive line should be better with the addition of right tackle Luke Joeckle, the second overall pick in April’s draft, and the healthy return of guards Uche Nwaneri and Will Rackley. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew is back from a foot injury, too. And with the emergence of receivers Cecil Shorts III and Justin Blackmon on the outside, there should be more room for Lewis to roam in the middle of the field.
“We need him to be more than just a blocker,” Fisch said. “We’re trying to use this camp to see what he does best. There’s a lot of positives. He’s 6-6 and 260 pounds. When you have a guy like that, you have to find ways to get him the ball.”
No one wants that more than Lewis, whose team has missed the playoffs the last five seasons.
“I love blocking,” Lewis said. “But at the same time, I want to catch the rock. I want to be able to put us in position to score touchdowns. That’s only natural. I actually want to help this team win. It’s been too long, and I’m excited about our opportunity. I honestly feel like mentally we have a better grip of where we want to go.”