The Jacksonville Jaguars opened their first mandatory minicamp under new head coach Mike Mularkey on Wednesday.
When the practices began, most of the buzz concerned the absence of superstar Maurice Jones-Drew, who is holding out for a new contract.
But the other players carried on as scheduled.
Fans eager to catch their first glimpse of the new Jaguars braved intense heat to take in the two practices.
And they were treated to a new up-tempo style of practice, enabling the team to run through multiple drills in a condensed period of time.
As the stands filled at the Florida Blue practice fields, all the buzz focused on quarterback Blaine Gabbert and the new receivers.
The early results should leave fans upbeat about the 2012 season.
Gabbert looked more confident, knowledgeable and in control of the offense than at any point during the 2011 season.
First-round selection Justin Blackmon showed early and often why he was the first receiver taken in this year's draft, hauling in several contested passes. He made catching look effortless and snatched the ball instead of waiting for it to come to him.
Free-agent Laurent Robinson was consistently getting open and making solid grabs on deep balls.
Second-year man Cecil Shorts, hoping to improve on a one-catch rookie season, had a very strong minicamp, making several nice catches on many different routes.
It was a positive to see right tackle Eben Britton out there running with the first team. He looked good, showing no ill-effects from the injuries that cost him most of last season.
Drawing the biggest applause of the practices was controversial draft pick, punter Bryan Anger.
The Jags coaching staff put him front and center on the first practice field closest to fans, and he did not disappoint.
He averaged five seconds of hang-time on his punts, consistently downed the ball inside the 10-yard line and blasted a highlight reel kick that traveled 65 yards in the air.
But the practices were not dominated by the offense.
Rookie defensive end Andre Branch flashed some of the power and speed that the coaching staff had been raving about during the OTAs. On several occasions, Branch found his way into the backfield.
And free-agent cornerback Aaron Ross had a very strong camp. He had several pass breakups, including a pass deep down the right sideline intended for Blackmon.
Ross also displayed potential on a few punt returns.
As the final minicamp practice drew to a close, it was obvious that this team has improved on offense, defense and special teams.
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