For the past seven years, I have had an opportunity to attend the majority of the Jacksonville Jaguars mini-camp and training camp sessions open to the public.
As an avid football fan, this gave me the ability to become more familiar with the personnel on the roster of my home town team, and to become more aware of what the Jaguars were working on.
From this, I started taking copious notes. For whatever reason, I liked to capture happenings at camp so that I could rehash them later. One day, I decided to put these notes into a recap of the events for specific practice sessions.
Some friends of mine saw these and urged me to post them somewhere that fans could get a taste of what these practice sessions are like from a fan's perspective.
Their urging started a tradition that I have followed for the past several years. The response from Jaguar fans unable to attend because of other obligations or due to logistical issues like geography was overwhelming.
They became a staple for hundreds of fans over the years, and for a lot of folks these camp reports have become a part of their annual calendar.
I wanted to give the folks here at BR a taste of what these camp reports are like, and I wanted to use the recent mini-camp as a starting point.
The report below was my first blush at the 2009 Jacksonville Jaguars as they started their first rookie camp back on May 2.
There wasn’t quite as much crowd buzz this year when the first mini-camp arrived, but it was a solid turnout just the same for the Jaguar faithful. The crowd was a good one as the work crowd got out early to get their first glimpse of the 2009 team.
The boys look like it’s their first day of practice after a long offseason, and rust was evident throughout the session.
Before I’m inundated by questions about how good the linebackers, offensive linemen, or defensive linemen looked at practice today, let’s put things into proper perspective. This happens every time there’s a practice, and it’s impossible to be able to give ANY sort of analysis on the defensive front because they’re in shorts and jerseys with zero contact.
The same goes for the offensive line play as nobody is engaging.
These practices usually allow the skill players to get out there and show what they can do because there are no pads, and no hitting to worry about. This is usually where we get these camp wonders that everyone clamors over, only to find out that once the hitting starts, they disappear.
Take it for what it’s worth. The team was on the field running through some pretty basic drills.
My initial impression about the first and second round picks is that both of them are big guys. Eugene Monroe is a thick, while Britton seems to be leaner, but equally large. Neither was running with the returning starters from last year on the offensive line.
They were working together in what would loosely be called a rotation, although they were being inserted with the starters periodically.
For now, Tra Thomas seems to have the advantage. He’s much bigger than I expected him to be, looking every bit as large as Pashos.
The one thing that really stands out about the 2009 Jaguars is the lack of size among the wide receivers. That’s not a bad thing because they’ve clearly decided to go with more sure handed speedy receivers, but the targets are smaller. That could come into play with the quarterback based on what we did get to see at practice today.
Let’s get to the drills.
Individual Drills (QB/Receiver)
None of the quarterbacks looked terribly accurate in these drills, but when they did hit their targets, the receivers were anything but reliable. Bobby Williams, a workout player, looked quick running his routes only to have the balls bouncing off his hands when he was hit in stride on more than one occasion.
Nate Hughes also had a couple of drops on routine passes, although he did make up for it later in practice.
Torry Holt looks good running his routes. He’s not nearly as big as you’d think he is, but he runs clean, precise routes. When he does get a ball thrown his way, he shows his veteran savvy, catching just about anything thrown in his direction during these individual drills.
The same could be said of Mike Walker and Dennis Northcutt, who both looked solid to start practice on catchable balls.
2 x 1
The struggles with accuracy moved on to the 2 x 1 drills where all of the quarterbacks had issues with delivering the ball on time into single coverage. When the passes were close to being on target, the defensive backs were getting involved in the play and making the most of the opportunity.
Torry Holt looked good at shedding coverage, shaking Brian Williams a couple of times to haul in a slant and on a curl route. However, Williams was able to step it up and get a hand on a Cleo Lemon pass on a little out pattern, knocking the ball incomplete.
Most of the passing routes in this drill were either curl routes or short out patterns. There were a few deeper passes including one deep crossing route run by Jarett Dillard.
Much maligned Derek Cox jumped the pattern and intercepted the pass from Cleo Lemon, making a nice athletic move to get in front of the rookie receiver. Cox came back later in the drill and made a nice defensive play on a slant intended for Jarett Dillard again, knocking the pass away as Dillard was hauling the ball in for a nice gain.
Garrard made a nice sideline pass to Mike Thomas in front of Weldon Brown. Thomas made a nice grab on the play before going out of bounds, showing nice hands on a pretty quick pass.
Mike Walker showed the same hands that made him a fan favorite in training camp last year and the year before. On a couple of crossing routes, the new No. 11 showed nice hands and solid route running ability as he shed Brian Williams to get separation on the plays.
Garrard nailed Dennis Northcutt on an out pattern with Rashean Mathis in tight coverage. Mathis was able to get a hand in on the play to knock it out, but Northcutt probably should have held on to the pass because he had the angle. Mathis made a nice play to break it up.
Troy Williamson flashed his speed getting behind Derek Cox by a couple of steps. Lemon overthrew the receiver on the play, but it was one of the few times where Cox wasn’t able to hold his own (pun not intended).
Everyone’s favorite whipping post, Will James, actually made a couple of nice plays during the drill, including one play in particular where he batted away a pass from David Garrard intended for Tiquan Underwood. It was just a little curl route, but James was able to get back to the play and bat the pass down.
David is clearly more comfortable going to his tight ends and running backs right now. That will obviously change as he gains more of a comfort level with the new crop of receivers, but the bulk of his passes were targeted at Richard Angulo, Greg Estandia, Marcedes Lewis, and Maurice Drew during practice.
Without going in and doing a pass count, I’d say that probably more than 70 percent of his passes were targeted at these guys specifically.
That could become a problem if he doesn’t develop any sort of chemistry with Holt or Walker, but it’s early, and he’s going to the targets he’s familiar with more often right now.
On three consecutive plays, Garrard went to Angulo twice, and Drew to start the drill.
It wasn’t until Cleo Lemon took over the offense that the passes started going to the wide receivers. Lemon attempted a deep post targeting Nate Hughes with Brian Witherspoon in tight coverage, stride for stride with the receiver.
Hughes made a great athletic catch, going up and catching the ball over the top of Witherspoon for what was one of the better plays during practice.
Maurice Drew and Rashean Mathis had a little foot race on a running play that Drew bounced to the outside. Once he got into the secondary, Mathis hit the burners. When Maurice saw this, he lit his up as well, and the race was on. Drew was able to get the angle and get ahead of Mathis to get into the end zone.
Marcedes Lewis showed bad hands on a quick slant from David. He made the catch but immediately had the ball stripped out, and it was eventually recovered by Sean Considine.
Jeremy Navarre made a nice move on second-round pick Eben Britton, getting by the offensive tackle and getting what would have been a sack on Cleo Lemon. Navarre didn’t really run by Britton as much as Lemon held on to the ball for too long and the protection broke down.
Garrard was intercepted by Justin Durant on a pass over the middle in heavy traffic.
David came back on the next play and missed Alvin Pearman coming out of the backfield as Rob Meier was in his face.
Tiquan Underwood showed some nice speed and hands getting down the sideline and behind Brian Witherspoon. Paul Smith launched a deep pass in his direction, but the ball sailed over the intended target falling incomplete. Underwood really looks quick when he gets in space.
Jason English had a chance to impress the coaches, getting deep on Kevin Patterson along the sideline. Paul Smith dropped a pass right over his head. The ball was in his hands, but he had to turn his body to adjust, and the ball bounced off his hands.
Nate Hughes made another nice grab on a deep crossing route in front of Kennard Cox. David’s pass was right on target, and Hughes got the angle to keep the coverage away from the ball.
In the two-minute drill that concluded the 11 x 11 and practice itself, Garrard tried to go deep to Mike Walker down the sideline over Brian Witherspoon. The pass was overthrown, but it almost appeared as if Walker had pulled up on the play and didn’t run out his route, so that one probably had more to do with him than the pass itself.
It was well thrown, and would have been caught had he kept stride. I’m sure that will be a training moment when they look at film of this practice later.
Jarett Dillard looked to be a favorite target for Cleo Lemon. On a couple of occasions during the final portion of the drill, Lemon went to Dillard. On one deep cross in front of Derek Cox, Dillard made a really nice play with good coverage, hauling the pass in and taking it for a nice gain.
Lemon then tried to go back to him on a fade route down the sideline but overthrew his target.
All in all, it was an okay practice session. There was nothing spectacular, but it was good to see the boys back in action on a limited basis.
It is clear that the receiving corps is going to be quicker this year. They’ve got a nice bit of competition on the field vying for catches, and the draft picks all looked solid in this first session. Like I said earlier, it’s only the first of many practices, so it is difficult to get a real sense for what the intention is, or for how good these guys are.
There are some players that are clearly a cut above, including Torry Holt (obviously), Dennis Northcutt, and Mike Walker. But, the young receivers all have skills that should make this one of the more entertaining competitions of the off season to see who winds up on the roster.
On the defensive side of the ball, the standout from practice today had to be Derek Cox. As much of a beating as he’s taking for how the team acquired him, this kid looks confident on the field and capable of making the plays.
Granted, as is the case with the rest of the defensive players, it’s difficult to know how this will translate when the hitting starts, but my first impression is that they might have found a player here that could finally fix the issue opposite Mathis. He’s got good size and speed, and a nose for the ball. We’ll have to see how he develops between now and training camp.
Another guy that I was really impressed with was Rashad Jennings. This kid is smooth as glass out there when he’s running. The comments that were being bandied about in the stands constantly referred to the way he would glide.
I know that Jaguars.com senior editor Vic Ketchman mentioned that he’s a guy that has to build up to speed, but I saw enough burst from him to think that Vic might be wrong about that. He gets up to speed quickly, faster than Greg Jones who requires a few steps to get a head of steam going.
Of the rookie receivers, Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard both looked solid. They both catch the ball well, and have decent speed. I’m curious to see how Thomas handles contact at the NFL level. That remains to be seen, but he shows nice instinct, and he’s rock solid.
It was a rusty practice with a few highlights. I suspect we’ll see a crisp AM session as is normally the case once they’ve gotten their legs.
The one thing to note was that the practice this evening ran a full two hours which is unusual, but probably shows that the team is going to be putting in more effort than they have in recent years. Coming off of a 5-11 season, that's a good thing.