The many roadblocks involved in bringing a football team together are never more apparent than in training camp, as the Jaguars can attest after half a week of practices.
From last Friday morning (July 30) to Monday's evening session, the news from Jacksonville's practice field has been largely of conflict, discord, and adversity—even within the framework of a positive buzz around the organization, which hasn't escaped the notice of Colts president Bill Polian.
In a recent interview, Polian commented on the Jaguars saying, "They may not be a playoff team, yet, because their division is so strong, but they are going to be the most improved team...in the AFC."
If that's to be true, it'll depend on how well Jacksonville can absorb the individual highs, lows, struggles, and suffering involved in these first days. Not everyone comes into camp on the same page, as you'll see in these slides.
On great teams the difference is that everyone gets there—and, in several early bright spots, the Jaguars are showing signs of the fire they'll need.
"You can't define the heat in Florida no matter how long you have lived here," safety Reggie Nelson told Jaguars.com's Ryan Robinson Friday.
"You are not going to get used to it."
Numbers might help a bit. How about a 102-degree heat index for Jacksonville's Friday morning practice—or 129 degrees later that day?
Linebacker Kirk Morrison, an offseason addition who grew up in California and played for San Diego State and the Oakland Raiders, was impressed by the suffocating humidity that welcomed the Jaguars back to football.
"That was all-time," Morrison told Robinson. "[But] unless you practice in it you will never know. You can't train for it all."
Quarterback David Garrard and rookie running back Deji Karim were both treated for cramps Friday, and both have since returned to practice.
"The sun looks like our enemy now," head coach Jack Del Rio told CBS correspondent Jim Nasella. "But [it'll] be our friend in a few weeks. Mr. Sun is going to be our friend."
As if stalling to give holdout Tyson Alualu time to sign and take part in the Oklahoma drill, the skies over Jacksonville released a persistent thunderstorm on Sunday that delayed the Jaguars' evening session by over an hour.
Even without a field for practice, the team was hard at work. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, peeping out for a look at the lightning, remarked that "it's hustle while you wait" for a team with Jacksonville's ambitions as he ducked back in to watch game film.
Though Alualu didn't end up signing a contract until later that night, the weather cleared up for the Jaguars to take the field. Short of a snowstorm—don't hold your breath, Floridians—they've seen first-hand what inclement weather the coming season might throw at them.
Another week of this weather, and Mr. Rain might be Jacksonville's friend, too.
Easy as riding a stationary bike might have been in the blistering heat that Friday, it wasn't an ideal start for second-year players Zach Miller and Jarett Dillard.
According to Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union, Miller's plantar fasciitis and a stress fracture in Dillard's foot caused Jacksonville to list the two as "physically unable to perform" on the active roster.
Miller, whose injury had also sidelined him for the Jaguars' OTAs earlier in the offseason, was able to return to practice on Sunday and even took a few snaps at quarterback (his college position) on Monday.
Dillard, on the other hand, told CBS' Jim Nasella that he'd likely be out of action for another two weeks.
Having impressed in their limited opportunities in 2009, both players are in line for expanded roles in Jacksonville's offense this year. Considering the Jaguars' vacancy at wide receiver opposite Mike Sims-Walker, Dillard's injury is especially untimely.
Outspoken as Kampman and Sims-Walker have been about approaching the upcoming season, Jacksonville's coaching staff has wisely placed them both on a growing list of veterans participating in only one of two practices each day.
"What knee? That's my mindset," was Kampman's answer for Jaguars.com's Vic Ketchman when asked about his ongoing recovery from an ACL tear in 2009.
More recently, fullback Greg Jones and guards Vince Manuwai and Justin Smiley have joined the two on their one-a-day schedule, according to a CBS RapidReports update Sunday.
Long-term, the bag of ice on Smiley's oft-injured shoulder might be more cause for concern than the team's tender treatment of these stars in the early going. The damage it represents is all that's standing between Jacksonville and an All-Pro pulling guard.
Until Monday night, the Jaguars had managed to escape any significant injuries.
Veteran outside linebacker Daryl Smith tweaked his hamstring during Jacksonville's first practice, but was seen riding a stationary bike on the sideline the next day.
D'Anthony Smith, on the other hand, might be out of commission longer. One account of his ankle injury related that "his facial expressions seemed painful. He had to be helped off the field by trainers and never returned."
Even with Alualu under contract, the Jaguars are painfully thin at defensive tackle. They'll hope that Smith, who was expected to figure heavily into their rotation up front, isn't injured badly.
Aside from his noteworthy presence on the sidelines as a one-a-day practice participant, the biggest news about Manuwai thus far has been his absence from Jacksonville's first team offensive line.
Saturday, CBS' RapidReports noted that Kynan Forney, a backup last year, had taken most of the reps at Manuwai's left guard spot.
After struggling during the Jaguars' earlier offseason activities, Manuwai doesn't seem surprised at the recent turn of events.
"I'm my worst critic," he told the Florida Times-Union. "And it is frustrating."
It must be especially frustrating for Jacksonville, considering the ice bag, bench-warming status of recent trade acquisition Justin Smiley. Without Manuwai performing up to par, the Jaguars are left with only Forney and Uche Nwaneri—who's being groomed for center—as their guards.
While Manuwai has been unfortunately inconspicuous, the recent shortcomings of 2009 All-Rookie selection Terrance Knighton have been uncomfortably visible.
Try "350 pounds" visible.
Knighton, according to beat writer Gene Frenette, has drawn attention to his history of weight control issues by showing up "not physically ready to give an all-out effort at the start of training camp."
When asked about Knighton's relegation to the second team, coach Del Rio responded that defensive line coach Joe Cullen was simply "rewarding those who are working hard."
If the potential loss of rookie D'Anthony Smith would hurt Jacksonville's defensive line, that goes double for an on-form Knighton. Looking at the Jaguars' depth chart, only undrafted rookie Kommonyan Quaye has the build to potentially fill Knighton's run-stuffing role as a two-gapper.
As far as Jacksonville's front office is concerned, Rashean Mathis' contract situation is progressing as planned.
Having skipped the team's voluntary offseason activities earlier in the summer to underline his desire for a contract extension, Mathis—whose current deal pays around $3.4 million per year—has been present for all of training camp.
Asked what he accomplished through the mini-holdout, Mathis responded sardonically saying, "I accomplished sitting in front of a media room getting asked questions about it."
That the former All-Pro didn't get his wish from the same front office that so eagerly locked up David Garrard and running back Maurice Jones-Drew in years past suggests they're looking for something more out of Mathis.
Persistent depth chart competitor DE Jeremy Mincey has been in four seasons with Jacksonville, though he's no Tyson Alualu. The Jaguars knew as much this past weekend, when Mincey filled in at defensive tackle while their negotiations with Alualu's agent dragged on.
According to beat writer Vito Stellino, the two sides were close to a deal on Saturday morning. Signing then would have landed Alualu in camp in time to take on fellow Hawaii native Vince Manuwai in Jacksonville's famous Oklahoma drill Sunday.
After hitting a snag in negotiations, the Jaguars weren't able to declare their surprise first-rounder signed until Sunday night.
Coming into Tuesday's full-pads practice with $17.5 million guaranteed to him over five years, Alualu's one-man welcoming committee still awaits.
"Since they [Alualu and Manuwai] grew up in the same neighborhood," Del Rio told Stellino, "[Manuwai] would like to welcome him to the NFL."
Pictured, an extremely flexible 300-pound man.
Not pictured, the 30 pounds Eugene Monroe shed to get in that shape.
In his 2009 rookie campaign, Monroe showed tenacity in the ground game, boatloads of overall potential, and a nagging lack of lateral quickness. After extensive offseason work, that last point is looking like a non-issue in 2010.
Looking to test Monroe's quick feet, Jacksonville's fans voted to pit him against rookie pass rush specialist Larry Hart in Sunday's Oklahoma drill.
Pairing last year's strength, which allowed him to move ends as big as Houston's Mario Williams, with this year's agility, he's looking fierce and well-prepared for the season ahead.
At the start of last year's training camp, veteran wide receiver Torry Holt (now with the New England Patriots) quipped that he'd take the rookies at his position and "mentor them straight to the bench."
Kampman, the Jaguars' high-profile free agent this year as Holt was in 2009, seems to have chosen a different approach. Since hitting the practice field Friday, he's taken the initiative to mentor Jacksonville's defensive linemen on the field, in stretches, in the film room—wherever and whenever possible.
"He shows you how to do the drills, shows you how to do things," second-year defensive tackle Knighton said of Kampman. "He's a professional on and off the field so he teaches us how to watch film. For a lot of the young guys, you need a guy like that."
The Jaguars will hope that the results of Kampman's schooling will show in September. Still, on a unit that was as faceless as it was inept in managing only 14 sacks last season, a leader is a welcome presence.
Amidst the thunderous clashes of big ugly on big ugly Sunday night in the Oklahoma drill, the loudest hit was delivered by a player on the "wrong" side of 200 pounds.
Matched against wide receiver Nate Hughes, safety Reggie Nelson shed the block on one run before picking up rookie wideout Roren Thomas and body-slamming him roughly to the ground.
After Nelson earned a reputation for losing his head in coverage and lackluster tackling effort in 2009, coach Del Rio has been impressed by the 2007 first-rounder's early performance.
"He's working hard," Del Rio said of Nelson Sunday. "He's a proud guy. He understands kind of the situation and maybe the vibe and I think he wants to rectify that, he wants to eliminate that."
With more physicality and more interceptions in practice—he already has two—Nelson will be well on his way to doing just that.
By all accounts, newly-hired defensive line coach Joe Cullen lit a fire under his players in the early going.
Former first-rounder Derrick Harvey has shed 20 pounds in hopes of gaining the extra step that'll get him to the opposing quarterback. According to Jaguars strength coach Luke Richesson, "Joe Cullen has been a great influence on [Harvey.]"
When asked about Cullen, rookie defensive end Larry Hart described him as "super-intense all the time."
"We're in a meeting," Hart said in one example, "and toward the end he was sweating because he's so intense. He's like that on the field, off the field, everywhere."
How did Jacksonville manage to prize this phenomenal coach away from the Detroit Lions? It's a story as interesting as it is dated.
If he can continue his early success by whittling Terrance Knighton into game shape, it's Cullen who'll deserve any training camp MVP honors.
In a joint press conference with Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver on Monday, the NFL commissioner didn't mince words in getting his message out to the city of Jacksonville.
"We want the team to be successful and we want it to be here," Goodell remarked through the media in attendance. "We just want it to play in front of sold-out audiences."
Addressing the wide range of popular excuses for lackluster ticket sales in one swipe, Goodell pointed out that "if it's a one-year blip due to a perfect storm, then this is a great opportunity to demonstrate that."
Despite the diplomatic overtone of his stop in Jacksonville, the threat of Los Angeles—the nation's second-largest media market, which has a plan in place to attract an NFL team—scented Goodell's message to the Jaguars' supporters.
"I believe [Jacksonville] will support the team," he ended hopefully. "The team wants to see a full stadium, the players want to see a full stadium, the league wants to see a full stadium and I think the community wants to see a full stadium."
Through the Jaguars' first four days of camp, the overall scene was one of little conflicts and discords: adverse weather, easy-going veterans, high-strung rookies, standout players, disappointing players, contract disputes, and a challenge from the NFL commissioner to the city of Jacksonville.
Aside from that last, just the regular groaning gears of a professional team stirring to life at the start of a very long football year.
In one such conflict, though, the Jaguars may have started to hit the right note. Monday night, rookies Kevin Haslam and Austen Lane—both upstart favorites to win a roster spot, both challenging for early playing time—got into a fierce fight that ended in a bit of blood and with Lane's dreadlocks pulled.
With veterans like Garrard taking an early night off here and there and a few players practicing once a day, it's been left to the rookies and those clawing for their jobs to up the intensity as the season draws nearer.
A bit of testosterone, blood, and bared claws might have been just the thing. Starting Tuesday, Jacksonville should begin to climb in earnest toward that intensity as a team.