The Jacksonville Jaguars kicked off training camp on July 24, and things have been looking good so far. There is a lot of excitement and optimism coming out of Duval, and a lot of it hinges on the influx of young, talented players across the roster. Even though it is early, there is still much to talk about, so let's dive right in.
Things started on a bit of a grim note for the team as it was announced July 22 that Ace Sanders was hit with a four-game ban for violating the league's substance abuse policy. This was followed two days later by a report that Justin Blackmon, who is currently serving an indefinite suspension for the same, was arrested for possession of marijuana.
The news is unfortunate as both are young, talented players who can contribute to this team. The news is especially disheartening in regard to Sanders as he has been present during Blackmon's whole ordeal but chose not to learn from it. At least in one regard, he did learn from Blackmon's issues as he decided to tackle his problem head on and seek professional help:
In both cases, the Jaguars organization has been very supportive of each player. Owner Shad Khan voiced his support of Blackmon, stating, via Jacksonville.com, "We want to keep him as a player. He’s not a part of the team now, obviously, but it’s very important for him to get the help. It’s the most important thing." It was a similar story for Sanders as it was reported by Mike DiRocco, via Twitter, that the Jaguars will be "waiting with open arms" for Sanders' return.
The organization has done a good job of keeping the focus on the field and not letting these issues affect team morale. Everyone in the organization, from the players to the execs, want Sanders and Blackmon to get the help they need so they can come back and play football. While we all wait for that to happen, it is business as usual on the field.
So far, there have been some players who have stood out, which is excellent news. Among these players is running back Jordan Todman. The backup position behind Toby Gerhart has been wide open all offseason with many expecting the ultra-athletic Denard Robinson to take the role as the change-of-pace back.
However, this is exactly the kind of skill Todman has been showing, according to head coach Gus Bradley, who said, "You’re seeing him break some. The other day he had one where he broke and you saw him accelerate. Today he had another one, and I think that’s what we’re counting on him for -- to give that change-up, that burst that we know he has."
This is extremely important for Todman as he was seemingly the odd man out. As stated, there was a lot of hype surrounding Robinson now that he is healthy, and there was a good bit of hype for seventh-round rookie Storm Johnson, who played with Blake Bortles in college. Todman's roster spot was never really in danger, but he is now showing why he should continue to get touches throughout the season.
There have been many other players impressing early on here, so let's take a brief look at them.
Blake Bortles, QB: Bortles has been doing a very good job so far this offseason. He has looked sharp with a number of his throws, including the one you see below.
He has had his rookie moments, though, but has learned from them. Bradley said of Bortles, via Jaguars.com, "[Bortles] threw a seam route with two guys on him and he put it right between them. He made a great throw. That tells me something right there: He has no fear of failure and that’s a really cool sign for a quarterback."
Bortles has everyone excited for the future with how much he has learned and grown this offseason. If he can continue this growth, he may find himself in a position to start later on in the season.
Chris Smith, DE: The fifth-round rookie has been catching the eye of the coaching staff all offseason and has started to show that it isn't just beginner's luck. Smith was knocked for his size (6'1") during the draft process, but Bradley has been adamant about how it is not an issue: "He’s not as tall but he’s got good length in his arms and that’s what’s showing up."
Smith is a high-motor player and has been performing up to par. He has shown good versatility, which was on display when he beat offensive tackle Josh Wells with both a spin move and a bull rush during one-on-one pass-rush drills.
Smith is not fighting for a starting role currently given the presence of Andre Branch and Chris Clemons, but the Jaguars like him as a Leo end, and he could get some snaps there in relief of them. At the very least, he seems to have solidified his roster spot.
Waiting to See Some Action
As is the case with nearly every team in the NFL, the Jaguars have been experiencing their fair share of injuries. Some of them have been more serious than others. Fortunately, there have been no season-ending injuries *knock on wood*. Let's take a brief look at some of the more significant injuries.
Josh Evans, FS: Evans played admirably last season after being forced into the starting role as a rookie but definitely has room to grow. He needs to work on his coverage skills, having received a minus-7.9 grade from Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in pass defense.
Unfortunately, he has not had the opportunity to grow. Evans has been sidelined while recovering from foot surgery and has barely participated in any team workouts. This has opened the door for Winston Guy to take all first-team reps. Evans was expected to be the starter, but that seems quite unlikely now.
Dekoda Watson, OLB: Dekoda Watson was brought in as a free agent from Tampa Bay for the sole purpose of playing the newly created "Otto" linebacker position. Like Evans, Watson has been essentially non-existent.
Watson underwent sports hernia surgery and has since landed on the PUP list. The Jaguars are hopeful he can return for the start of the season, but until then, LaRoy Reynolds has taken all first-team snaps.
Cecil Shorts III, WR: Shorts is the best receiver the Jaguars have, at least out of the ones who are allowed to play. He has been a great pick for the Jaguars after being selected in the fourth round in 2010.
Unfortunately, Shorts has been dealing with a myriad of injury issues this offseason, including most recently pulling up with a hamstring injury. This is bad news for a team who has a very young group of receivers. He was expected to be a good veteran presence both on and off the field.
With him having these nagging injury issues, it puts a lot more pressure on rookies Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. Both of them have been playing catch up already, having missed some time with injuries of their own. The ability for this Jaguars offense to drastically improve, like I expect it to, hinges largely on Shorts and co. to shake these injuries and get back on the field.
All in all, things are looking up for Jacksonville. They have had some issues that could prove to be distractions but showed enough maturity and composure to not let it affect them. They have some young guys already stepping up, ready to make their mark on the team. If the Jaguars can just shake the injury issues they've had, this is a team ready to make some real strides this year.