Jacksonville Jaguars 2010 Training Camp: One Week In, 10 More Headlines
If you aren't convinced that overreaction is necessary to follow the NFL this time of year, just look at the picture: professional football players in gym shorts.
The first week of August represents the last gasp of preseason speculation. Starting with the Hall of Fame Game on August 8, the gym shorts are gone and the thigh pads are on for real.
Whether the players involved are superstars trotting out for one first-quarter series or street free agents on the roster bubble, they'll be playing football then.
For now, they're learning and acclimating themselves to the feel of a helmet pinching their temples, as it will be for the next five months. (Six, if they're lucky.)
With that in mind, take these, the 10 biggest happenings from the Jaguars' last three days of training camp, in the proper context. Right now, it's all about that nagging summer proposition: "What if..."
1. Stepping Up: Undrafted Rookie C John Estes Impresses on Wednesday
If Jacksonville could pick one position on the roster to find unexpected depth, it'd have to be at center.
At present, they're effectively torn between 10-year veteran Brad Meester, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on March 23, and converting dependable starting OG Uche Nwaneri.
Another capable option would give the Jaguars more freedom to shuffle their interior linemen around, as well as enough depth to breathe easy up front.
Enter John Estes, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Hawaii who dominated in one-on-one drills at Wednesday's practice, according to CBS correspondent Jim Nasella. He'll be one player to keep an eye on in Jacksonville's early preseason contests, starting August 13 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
With camp competitor Cecil Newton busy firing shotgun snaps over quarterbacks' heads, the backup job could well be Estes' for the taking.
2. Slimming Down: DT Terrance Knighton Shedding Weight, Looking Alive
After drawing the ire of coach Del Rio and defensive line coach Joe Cullen for showing up to training camp badly out of shape last week, 2009 All-Rookie DT Terrance Knighton has responded in gritty fashion.
Reportedly weighing around 350 pounds when the Jaguars opened camp, Knighton has dropped 10 pounds and chipped his way back into the coaches' good graces.
"We don't want him to be a skinny guy," Del Rio joked when asked about Knighton's progress.
Jacksonville will need "Pot Roast" to be ready for his work-intensive role as a two-gap lineman in their four-man front. As the only proven player of his type on the Jaguars' roster, he'll bear the lion's share of responsibility for freeing rookie DT Tyson Alualu up to penetrate into the opposing backfield.
3. Clash of the Hawaiians: OG Vince Manuwai vs. Rookie DT Tyson Alualu
"Wait a minute, I didn't get any time," OT Eugene Monroe reportedly teased coach Del Rio, on learning that Alualu wouldn't be thrust into Jacksonville's "trial by fire" in the Oklahoma drill until his second night of practice. "You threw me straight into the drill."
"Yeah, you were different," Del Rio responded. "You held out a long time and made a lot of people angry."
When Alualu lined up to face OG Vince Manuwai, the atmosphere was different. A year ago, there had been catcalls directed at Monroe, the rookie—"Hey, Eugene!" Reggie Heyward had yelled, "I heard they washed your pants with money!"—but he'd handled Derrick Harvey anyway.
This year, opinions diverged on how to score Alualu and Manuwai. CBS' Jim Nasella gave Manuwai a 2-of-3 victory, while Vito Stellino of The Florida Times-Union called it a draw.
Ultimately, the battle between the Jaguars' most-prominent Hawaiians showed a veteran still capable of holding his own and a rookie with plenty of fight in him.
4. Man Down: Rookie DT D'Anthony Smith's MRI Reveals Year-Ending Injury
Alualu's arrival was all the more important because of another rookie's exit.
After leaving the practice field in obvious pain Monday night, an MRI on DT D'Anthony Smith's ankle showed that he'd suffered an Achilles injury which will require surgery. Coach Del Rio has been quoted as saying that, "in all likelihood," Smith will be out for the season.
As Jacksonville's second pick (a third-rounder) in this past April's NFL Draft, Smith was in line for significant playing time as part of a rotation at defensive tackle. Along with Alualu and 2009 holdover Atiyyah Ellison, the Jaguars' stable of pass-rushing interior linemen figured to be much-improved.
Now, they'll likely look to bring in a street free agent to compete with Walter Curry, since undrafted rookie Kommonyan Quaye is more suited as a backup to nose tackle Terrance Knighton.
5. Chilling Sight: Ice Bag Seen on RB Maurice Jones-Drew's Knee Tuesday
Out of the 80 players on Jacksonville's training camp roster, Maurice Jones-Drew is the one the Jaguars absolutely cannot afford to lose.
Having logged 365 touches as the heart and soul of the team's offense last year and spending a few weeks listed as "questionable" on the injury report, observers can't help but feel wary of the 5'7", 208-pound back's ability to hold up over the course of a second such season.
In that light, even the most trivial of preseason chinks in Jones-Drew's armor is cause for crossed fingers among Jacksonville's fans.
"We have plenty of guys with ice on their body," coach Del Rio explained when questioned about his star player's injury. "There's nothing there."
For the sake of the Jaguars' 2010 season, and as well as backup Rashard Jennings has been showing out thus far, he'd better hope that's true.
6. Close Call: DE Aaron Kampman Twists Rehabbed Knee in Practice
In a situation involving the same slight unease as Jones-Drew's iced knee, free agent acquisition Aaron Kampman reportedly twisted his knee in Tuesday's practice—the same one he's been rehabbing since tearing his ACL in Week 11 last year.
Fans will often disregard a player's injury history, particularly in the case of big names, in favor of taking an optimistic view of how he'd benefit the team.
And, in Kampman's case, there might be a germ of truth in that line of thinking. After just one week, the eight-year veteran has drawn rave reviews for his professionalism on and off the field and its influence on his defensive line teammates.
Still, the Jaguars didn't guarantee him $11 million over four years for his potential as a guidance counselor. Kampman can't well hold back in practice, but each awkward knock to that knee is going to be cringe-worthy for those who've pinned their hopes on him.
7. OT Eben Britton Day-to-Day: Calf Injury Begs Question, Who'd Be Next?
In the past three slides, the consistent theme of each injury—D'Anthony Smith, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Aaron Kampman—has been a preseason question: Who's next?
When applied to the case of starting right tackle Eben Britton and the calf injury that has caused him to miss significant practice time in the middle of the week, it doesn't uncover much that's reassuring.
Should Jacksonville need to replace Britton for a game, the current roster offers only journeyman Jordan Black, whose experience in six NFL seasons has been mostly at left tackle, undrafted rookies Kevin Haslam and Daniel Baldridge, and OG Paul McQuistan in a pinch.
Fortunately, Britton's injury isn't expected to sideline him past the Jaguars' practices early next week according to Tania Ganguli of The Florida Times-Union.
8. Coach Del Rio, CB Rashean Mathis Disagree on Mathis' Conditioning
It starts with the tiniest of off-hand insinuations. At least, that's how the ball got rolling on Del Rio's dismissal of former Jaguars such as Byron Leftwich, John Henderson, and Mike Peterson.
Tuesday, a bit of evidence was offered to suggest that former All-Pro cornerback Rashean Mathis might be headed toward that same doghouse after skipping Jacksonville's OTAs earlier this offseason.
An update via CBS' RapidReports noted that Del Rio considers Mathis to be behind the rest of the team in terms of his conditioning—an obvious nod toward his absence from their training.
Most players, especially established veterans, are capable of maintaining an NFL level of fitness on their own. Running back Fred Taylor, now with the New England Patriots, was well-known for training apart from the team in his time with the Jaguars.
Mathis, who described himself as "fine but a little sore," should be fine considering Jacksonville's poor depth at his position and, of course, his talent. It'll be interesting to see whether Del Rio's goading lights a little fire under him, though.
9. Jacksonville's Mayor Visits, Touts 4,500 Season Tickets Left to Sell
Following in the wake of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's Monday stop in Jacksonville, mayor John Peyton visited the Jaguars' practice field Friday to make a public push for the team's last-ditch ticket sales effort.
Already, they've retained 90% of last year's season ticket holders and are leading all NFL franchises in new season ticket sales this offseason. As of the mayor's visit, only 4,500 general bowl seats needed to be sold to safely avoid local TV blackouts in 2010.
"This [team] is good for Jacksonville," Peyton said Friday. "It should be a mainstay in our portfolio."
Having weathered horrible sales in 2009, with the gate attendance at some games close to two-thirds of EverBank Field's 67,164-seat capacity, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver still intends to sell his team in the future.
Whether or not the locals can kick back at home and watch the 2010 season's games on TV, weekly sell-outs will go a long way to convincing prospective buyers—along with the exorbitant cost of moving the franchise out of town—that Jacksonville can be a profitable NFL city.
10. No More Freebies: Jaguars' Friday Night Scrimmage Closed to Public
In order to add value to those yet-to-be-sold tickets, the Jaguars have closed their annual intra-squad scrimmage to the general public. Instead, it'll be an exclusive treat for season ticket holders.
Locals' initial response to the decision was negative. In the same vein as criticism for the team's blacked-out home games last year, the idea is that such "free samples" serve as a marketing vehicle for the football product and an enticement for potential ticket-buyers.
Setting aside the fact that NFL football is a known quantity, Jacksonville needs to be taught another important lesson about entertainment as a service: it isn't free. Just like most of the Jaguars' home games in 2009, this previously zero-cost exhibition offers a dose of reality for an over-coddled market.
Especially with buyers looming who lack Wayne Weaver's dedication to the idea of pro football in North Florida.