Calais Campbell understands why a lot of people remain skeptical of any talk about the Jaguars’ franchise embarking on a turnaround. He gets the frustration over their recent history, how optimism has been quickly doused by one double-digit loss season after another.

 

Still, the team’s new $60 million man insists those days will soon be over. Campbell, the Arizona Cardinals’ free agent pass-rusher who bypassed his hometown Denver Broncos to sign with Jacksonville, tells anybody willing to listen that the Jaguars under front-office boss Tom Coughlin and head coach Doug Marrone are transitioning into a legitimate NFL threat.

“I do believe it’s not going to be long before we’re competing and contending for a Super Bowl,” said Campbell. “The playoffs are right there for us in this [AFC South] division. There’s no reason why we can’t do that.”

Campbell better be right. The Jaguars made him and last year’s prized free agent, defensive tackle Malik Jackson (six years, $90 million contract), the highest-paid players in team history. This franchise is way overdue for a reasonable payoff on such huge investments, and Campbell embraces the challenge his paycheck brings with it.

He looks at the Jaguars’ roster, especially on defense, and remains adamant a significant jump is on the horizon. Campbell views Jalen Ramsey as a lockdown corner like Arizona has with Patrick Peterson. He raves about the future promise of Myles Jack, Telvin Smith and free-agent acquisition A.J. Bouye. Combined with the veteran presence of Paul Posluszny, Jackson and himself, Campbell says he’s excited for reasons beyond the Jaguars paying him a little bit more money than what Denver offered.

“Denver has three lockdown corners and [outside linebacker] Von Miller is a beast, probably the best defensive player in football,” Campbell said. “That [Broncos] line is stacked. But I feel like Jacksonville’s defense isn’t that far behind. The biggest difference is the belief and the swagger.

“The talent is there, now you have to bring in that belief with a guy like Tom Coughlin, who is the ultimate leader. I feel all the pieces are in place.”

Frankly, Campbell needs to be the biggest piece, at least on the defensive side. If there’s any aspect of the Jaguars that has been sub-par for too long (quarterback David Garrard was at least adequate for a few years), it’s the pass rush.

Did you know opponents have out-sacked the Jaguars every season for the last nine years by an average margin of 47-29? That’s a pretty frightening disparity.

Well, Campbell is being paid a lot of money to change that. The Jaguars haven’t had a legitimate disruptive force at his position since Tony Brackens, whose franchise records of 55 sacks, 28 forced fumbles and 13 fumble recoveries in eight years (1996-2003) mirrors the kind of impact the 30-year-old Campbell had during his time in Arizona.

In fact, the only pass-rushers in Jaguars’ history who showed any kind of consistent impact were Brackens, Clyde Simmons (1996-97) and part-time starter Joel Smeenge (1995-2000), all of whom were signed or drafted by Coughlin when he served as head coach/GM.

Campbell has yet to hit double-digit sacks in a season, but his pass-rushing instincts are such that other D-linemen like Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler and Jackson could reap the benefits of his presence.

“I feel like I’ve always been a good team player, making plays for other guys to come free [at the quarterback],” said Campbell. “Our numbers [sacks, turnovers] should definitely increase. We should be in the top-10 in every category with the talent we have.

“We should be a stingy defense. Three-and-outs should become a more consistent thing. The scheme matters, too. Jacksonville is more of an aggressive, one-gap [scheme] and that’s what I’ve played the last two years and can affect games. It’s going to allow me to succeed and cause havoc.”

Not that you’d expect Campbell to be anything but optimistic about his new team. But after his recent trip to Thousand Oaks, Ca. to join Jackson for a five-day workout, the ex-Miami Hurricane can’t stop gushing about the Jaguars’ prospects along the defensive front. It was the first significant interaction between the two highest-paid Jaguars in team history.

“I feel like we’re going to get along well and make a lot of plays together,” said Campbell. “I like seeing a talent like [Jackson] work as hard as he does.”

Campbell, who has been to a Super Bowl and two NFC Championship games during his Arizona tenure, knows what it takes to have a winning organization. He’s convinced the Jaguars are on the verge of becoming one.

If Campbell can live up to his salary, maybe this will finally be the year the Jaguars are more than an empty promise.

Gene.frenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540